It was so exciting to stumble across this exhibit while I was researching the works of MC Escher of my drawing class. Thankfully our students and my colleagues are always willing to travel for art, despite winter weather, crazy schedules, and long bus rides. With my recent discovery of woodblock printing techniques, this was more than timely!
The exhibit was a true retrospective highlighting many, if not all, of Escher's masterworks. I am always particularly grateful when curators also include sketches, a discussion of major influences, as well as the artist's own words. This exhibit did that and more.
I was simply in awe of the detail, and technical prowess of Escher's design process and technique. I was not aware that so many of his works were multi-block prints. I also have been inspired to explore lithography as well as etching from the works I saw. I The pursued his work through travel, commissions, and book illustration projects, very affirming as a working artist myself. Escher was an incredibly hard working artist. He often wrote how he worked carving blocks in his hotel room or on board a ship turning sketches from the day into prints by night. He also had his ups and downs financially and with critics. Occasionally, had moments of great self-doubt and disappointment, but through it all he kept working and found joy in his family life. He had a wonderful rhythm of travel for inspiration and then periods of intense hard work in his studio at home followed by exhibitions. He enjoyed success and acceptance of his works in his own lifetime. It is somewhat refreshing to read about the life and works of an artist that is not overshadowed by hardship, struggle, and strife and the focus is on the work, his inspiration, and his process.
Escher lived quietly and worked consistently. He also took risks by undertaking personal projects that little promise of financial or critical rewards, as in the book of Dutch aphorisms he illustrated for a friend. Once, lacking sufficient funds to travel, he wrote a ship company suggesting that he create individual views of the various ports of call on their itineraries in exchange for his passage. Much to his surprise the shipping company agreed and he traveled to Italy, the country he truly loved, as well as Spain once again.
The works in the exhibit were arranged chronologically. From this it was easy to see how his travels and home life shaped his works. The exhibit designers included "experiences." These activities were fun, hands on, and emphasized the visual perception and artistic principles which Escher was mastering in various phases of his work. I also appreciated the many person photos and process photos included in the exhibit as well.
Escher's deep understanding of the rules of visual perception and his mastery of play with them are not merely delights to the eye. They are doorways for us, the viewer, to see the world through Escher's eye and to see the world in new and unexpected ways. For me, in a world so in need of understanding and embracing perspectives outside our own personal experience, MC Escher and his work provide an important lesson in what it means to truly see.
It was a terrific group of students and colleagues and a great day! Here are what were for me some highlight images:
As the musicians work on the stage, the students work in their sketchbooks, and on a large pastel mural creating a "response" to the music. Much like the exploratory challenge the 20th century master Kandinsky was inspired to pursue after his encourage with the works of the composer Schoenberg. You can Read More about this here:
I do not typically work as an abstract expressionist, but I did want to be a model for my students. And like my students I hard difficulty starting. It meant creating a new set of questions for myself based solely upon the elements of art:
What is the shape of that sound?
What is the color of the tone of that instrument?
Is there a definitive form or not?
Shape and reshape? All answered through the movement of my brush and selection of my eye. The key for my was to quiet the internal rhetoric and simple flow with the music.
Once the framework of the piece was created it was a matter for me of interweaving and layering the elements and choosing where to create emphasis as the music asked.
Overall, it was a very freeing exercise that I intend to revisit. And it completely disabused me of the notion that somehow abstraction was "easier" than realism. A different skill set perhaps, but still thoughtful, well-executed abstraction is just as demanding of one's artistic intellect as thoughtful, well-executed realism.
This fall the English and Art classes made our annual pilgrimage to the Walters Art Gallery in Baltimore for our cross curricular Visual Narrative Project. This year however, I was excited to discover that the gallery had a featured exhibit of Japanese Woodblock prints. Not only was it exciting to learn the history of this artistic golden age, but the exhibit clearly dissected the process of making as well as how that process developed over time and the factors that influence it. Below are some of my favorite works from the exhibit as well as a gallery of tools and techniques.
Please check out the link below to the museum website and more detailed information about the exhibit.
Our students in the main court of the museum.
Abbreviated Exhibit Gallery
The stereotype of the solitary artist toiling away at his or her canvas I find to be only partially true. Time alone for inspiration, reflection, and work is indeed essential. However, I have found the company of like minded artist to be essential as well. Sharing each others' journeys and learning from one another can be reassuring, grounding and inspiring.
This past month I had the good fortune to be invited to join several other artists to learn the art of making paper and marbling paper. With my new found love of print making this opportunity was fortunate indeed! Both are very ancient arts and it was wonderful to learn from two experienced artists, Merrilyne and John. And organized by the ever so cheerful and energetic Lucinda! A special thank you to St. John's College and Annapolis Signcraft for the generous use of their studios.
I am always looking for an excuse for a new book to read. As soon as I received the invitation, I of course started looking for resources to prepare myself. I found this book on the school studio shelves (part of a donation of art books we received several years ago). Albeit a bit dated, it is an excellent over all resource. Below is a gallery that walks through the paper making process.
The adventure in paper with the Creative Cabal that I was privileged to be a part of was in the art of marbling. The "bible" of this process is shown here. The text was truly helpful and our host made several hard copies of each pattern page which had the step outlined clearly on it so we could refer to as we created our own works. Recommended supplies included:
Colophon Book Arts Supplies
BookMakers which is a local Maryland company.
Before you can begin marbling there is the preparation of the paper with mordant, a thin coating of alum which gives the paper tooth and thereby makes it more receptive to the pigments. It is important that the coated papers have several days to dry before marbling. Then the pigments themselves must be prepared by careful mixing. Lastly, the baths of water and carrageenan (dissolved seaweed)are prepared. One of the greatest pleasures of this creative day was learning this process with my son, Ben.
First the bath is leveled, cleaned, and cleared of air bubbles. Then the pigment is added. The pigment floats on top of the carrageenan bath.
Below is video walking you through the marbling process. I hope you enjoy watching them and it inspires you to give this a try!
Below that is a gallery of our works, showing just some of the patterns you can create through this process. Along with different patterns it is also possible to achieve a three dimensional "folded" illusion by carefully shifting the paper in the bath. Ben was the master of this techniques called "Spanishing."