Thursday, May 27, 2010

Karl Kasten, inspirational to many generations

Karl Kasten, an artist I met and became acquainted with just recently, passed away a couple of weeks ago, and I am remembering how kind and generous he was during a visit I made to his house. First off, Karl was more than 50 years my senior, about the same age my grandfather would have been if alive today. My chance encounter came when I phoned a friend of a friend and said, "I would like to just meet him." I was late to our lunch date, where his wife, Georgina, had made crepes, and we shared some white wine. I felt special being amongst new friends.

He showed me around his house, which was difficult to walk through quickly because every square inch of wall space had been covered by Karl and Georgina's collection of prints and paintings, collected over their lifetime. Almost every item in their home seemed like a museum object, and I wanted to spend time with each object to appreaciate its value and beauty. We visited his studio where I had a good look around, and Karl showed me what he was working on in prints, and his paintings. He was kind enough to share many stories about his great teachers in art like Worth Ryder, Chiura Obata, and Hans Hoffmann with me.

Our time was cut short, as Karl needed his rest. Karl recently published a memoir titled "Foghorns and Peacocks," which highlights his experiences as a Bay Area artist and all his special moments with some of the great artists that passed through the San Francisco Area. Before I left he handed me a signed and dedicated copy of his book. I am proud to have my single moment with Karl and understand why he was so loved.

for more information on Karl Kasten:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Testing new punches, awls and chisel for a woodcut

I am under way on my second test, creating a woodcut print from no traditional tools, meaning v-gauge or u-gauge chisels. I spent about 7-8 hours on a 42cm tall x 36cm wide woodcut using my new circle punches, chisels, and awls. I started this time by mapping the woodcut into a grid, transferring the design, and then proceeding similar to the manor of Chuck Close, but different in approach. I did concentrate on each individual square, but that only assisted me in lining up the circles I was punching. After a while I felt I needed to choose several different patterns made with the punches to show different tonal variations, I also plan to use this printmaking plate as 1 of 2 plates. I do not plan on making a duplicate of Chuck's work, he does a fantastic job at what he does. The second plate will be cut on plywood, and I will use the whiteline method. Since each plate will be printed differently, I have yet to come up with a propper method for registration.Right now I am only focused on "doing" art and not "making" art. It is during these periods that I am able to experiment more, because I have no expectation of what the end result will look like. normally I would be deeply concerned at this point and have to print a test, so I cheated.
Here is "How to cheat on a woodcut test print." Below you see 3 images of the same woodcut: Image 1 on the left is a close up of the woodcut in progress. You can see some of the unique marks I am able to get from using the circle punches, and the awls, as well as using these in combination; The second image is considered complete, or as far as I am willing to work on the plate for now; The third image is the cheating part. I took a photo of my work and opened it with Microsoft Paint, and chose "image" and then clicked on "invert colors." This sort of gives me an idea how the plate will look inked up and ready to print,....sort of.

At the very least I am able to continue on to cutting a second block. The final photo shows further manipulation of the photo and gives me an idea regarding the graduated color, and it will be possible to replicate this if desireded during the final printing phase.

The Second Block will be cut using the White-Line Printmaking technique. Both plates will be printed to complete one print. I will have to work out the technical factors of registration, since the first block cut with the punches will be inked with a brayer to cover the entire surface, and the second plate will be printed in a step by step fashion as illustrated in the white-line link above.
I look forward to printing these into complete works, and have already made plans to print these as monotypes, using different ground(or first plate) colors to set the tone for the white line printing that will be printed over the top.

Monday, May 24, 2010

How Inspiration Became Experimentation

I was out doing a mundane chore at my local hardware store searching for metal snips that will cut through an average screw. While I was searching the shelves and racks, I noticed several punches and awls next to the snips. I have recently begun collecting awls and punches because I feel drawn to experimenting with non-traditional tools for woodcut printmaking. I did this in the past by using a handheld Dremel. The result of those ambitious woodcut prints are shown here. Judith and Holofernes and Portrait of Rembrandt. I made these impressions by attaching a very small drill bit and drilling out the white space one whole at a time. These prints were very labor intensive and I abandoned the Dremel returning to traditional woodcutting tools.

Once again I am find myself wanting to experiment. I don't really know that there is a method to developing new printmaking techniques, but know my inspiration will lead me. So back to the hardware store. I saw these punches that would not just make a dot mark, but an actual circle punch and in three different sizes, too. As I stare at these tools and I am thinking how they will mark the wood and what sort of printed impression they will make. But, I purchase my snips and leave the circle punches for another time.

That other time came just a week later when I realized I could not do another print without giving these new tools a go. I purchased 2 of the 3 sizes and started working on a small print, 5" x 8", Shorebirds of Alameda. This woodcut is inspired and created entirely from my new tools.
I believe normally most creative inspiration revolves around developing the image through successively working, sometimes over a period of time, until the ideas of what you are trying to create and what your hands can actually do come together in a the final work of art. Subject matter is most often the source for the creativity behind all that long and hard work.

As I began using the new tools, I realized I had a lot of different options for how I was going to work with them. Figuring out my first print was a test, I freed myself from all preconceived notions of the proper method to use these tools and just go at it and make the first print. My initial reaction was mixed. The print itself was not especially fine or beautiful as it was a simple study of birds on the beach. But I also like the tools enough to continue. I found that their power is not in random striking of the punches creating this sort of scribble effect as you see in Alameda Shorebirds. Their power derives from the various patterns that I can concoct by varying the way I use the punches, chisels, and awl.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Tale of Two Self-Portraits

Recently, I took two of Gary's paintings to hang in my office at work. Within the first few days, some co-workers came into my office and noticed the new pieces immediately. Two colleagaues really loved the surrealist paintings and asked if Gary had painted them. We chatted about the subject matter and I told them their titles, "St. Francis" and "Electricity." I hadn't seen these paintings in a couple of years and I was reminded how much I have loved these older works.

I came home and told Gary about how much I enjoyed his surrealist work. We started talking about how his work has transitioned since then. St. Francis, a self-protrait, has always been one of my favorite paintings. Recently, Gary painted another "Big Self-Portrait" which has also become a favorite of mine. And we started talking about how Gary's self-portraits have evolved from St. Francis to Big Self-Portrait, same subject matter but two totally different treatments, both equally interesting.

Gary said he had emerged from a period quietness and stillness when he was painting the lovely and serene San Francisco Bay Area landscapes. During this time he really concentrated on his art of painting, and working the light. The result in Big Self-Portrait is stunning. In St Francis, I love the narrative and the beautiful and fanciful imagery. In Big Self-Portrait the artist's portrait is painted in striking colors and simplified shapes. Each color and shape impart in the artist's face shifting emotion and powerful serenity. For me the external interest and beauty of St Francis is now internalized, richly and expressively in the emotions of the artist's face. Once fanciful and light, is now grounded and evocative.

Another recent work, a large print called "Woman with Calla Lilies," is equally as stunning. The subject of the print is enigmatic. Her gaze is steady, strong, and yet, soft. To me she has the same mysterious expression as the Mona Lisa. Tonight I saw Woman installed at the opening night of the new CSP show at the Adobe Art Gallery in Castro Valley. I thought it breathtaking. There was a good crowd at the show and everyone was commenting on how much they liked the show. As we mingled with other CSP members and other gallery visitors, I overheard many attendees comment on how much they liked Woman. She seems to have the same affect on everyone - from the moment that she comes in your sight, she draws you in closer for a longer and deeper look.

I can't wait to see more...