Thursday, May 28, 2015

Supermarket Battle part 2

When I started doing sketches for this potential supermarket print, I changed the concept from a language class in produce to referencing one of the many political/military conflicts between France and  England over the past 1000 years.  I decided to go with the Norman invasion, even though those involved weren't yet the nations we associate with those peoples today.  No doubt the existence of the Bayeux Tapestry, perhaps the greatest artwork of the entire medieval period, influenced me a bit.  After all, the American revolution put those two against each other and could provide some interesting visuals as well.  But then this morning I went to that same supermarket.  I had used up the last of the milk in my fridge and knew I'd need some, plus I could use the opportunity to study those produce display cases again.

So I did some quick studies of those cases- not exactly like what I built yesterday, but now I know in detail what they should look like.  Took a few notes of the u-boats (there were 7 or 8 just sitting empty in the dairy aisle) got my milk and a few things that I didn't immediately need, but stuff I regularly use and was on sale, and checked out.  And I did a double take when the cashier gave me the total.

Well, if I needed a sign as to which conflict to choose, a total of $10.66 in the store that inspired this print tells me that the Battle of Hastings is what I'm supposed to do.  Good, since I have put a bit of thought into that concept already.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Supermarket Battle

A few weeks ago we had the last critique, so I knocked out a quick sketch to show that night.  Still don't know if it will be my next completed print, but we may have our next meeting next week.  Plus, it's getting warmer out, which means my upstairs apartment gets a little stuffy in the afternoon.  On the other hand, my basement Studio will still be cool for a while, so it seemed a good opportunity to do some sketching there.

Since my last sketches, the supermarket where the original incident occurred has changed the displays, removing the large umbrellas from the tops of the produce displays.  And every time that I'm there I spend a few minutes looking at the set up from different angles.  So my first sketch today was from a viewpoint more in the corner, and I decided to put the u-boat between the viewing point and the racks of produce.

One of the alternate compositions I've been considering is a view across that section of the store, perpendicular to the first sketch, and between parallel produce display cases.  However, I was having a hard time working out the perspective in my head, so I took some time to build a cardboard model.  It's something that I've been doing for years when I need help figuring perspective and don't have the actual subject in front of me.  And now that one of my schools has turned me into a sculpture professor,  I've been having my students make models of things as projects in themselves and as preparations for larger pieces.  So above is a rough approximation of a produce case (not sure of the transition between the sloping sides and the sloping end, so I'll have to study that next time I'm there) and below is a sketch showing a view between them.

Like I said, don't know if this will be my next project, but with nothing else demanding my attention, I might as well work on this.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Black and White

Last night I did some things that I haven't ever done before, accompanying a Belmar photo walk to a brand new brewery that just opened about a block from the Belmar Arts Council.  Although I've been doing the Belmar Arts blog almost as long as I've been doing this one, I've never covered the photo walks, where a bunch of photographers wander parts of town taking photos with their cameras.  This is mostly because I figure if you have a few dozen people walking around with cameras for a few hours, at least one of them should be able to take their own pictures for that blog, though so far it has been beyond their capability.  However, three things tilted me toward going on this one.  First, this brewery has been under construction for past several months, in the remains of Freedman's Bakery, and I'm curious as to what it will be.  Second, they promised pizza at the discussion group to follow.  Third, the topic was photography as journalism, which is pretty much what I do for the blog.

So late yesterday afternoon/early last night, we had 30 members of the BAC moving through the Beach Haus brewery, getting a nice tour, and 29 of those people taking dozens or hundreds of photos of the facilities.  The one who wasn't was me, as I was taking photos of the members, documenting the activity for the Belmar blog.  Above is the group in the bottling part of the building, and below is the group in the tap room, enjoying the product.  This place pales in comparison to the Anchor Brewery tour I went on in San Francisco- nicer old fashioned design, and in the tap room the beer was all free and all you could drink, though on a day when I'm not so busy I plan to come back and try some of the brews.  I can see this place doing well.

I departed a few minutes early to go back and open up the building for the group while the organizers were getting the promised pizza.  A few minutes later we had the crowd and the food there and once everyone sat down with some slices, a very lively discussion started.  The idea was that journalistic standards require rules that must be followed, and the debate was over what level of alteration to the raw file is acceptable for this aspect of photography.

As an artist with a long history of drawing from life, I have the point of view that no photo is showing reality.  In converting a three dimensional scene to a flat two dimensional image, be it film or digital, so much of what can be seen by our eyes is immediately lost, which is why I don't let my drawing students work from photos.  (my 2D class has a number of projects that involve working from photos, but that class is only about two dimensions)  Since all photos are a compromise with reality, I am okay with making some minor adjustments of my own to the images.  The photos I post are all cropped, and most are adjusted for value tones, both of which I learned are generally acceptable alterations.  I lack a more sophisticated photo modification program for my computer, so you won't see me adding or subtracting elements, which everyone agreed is problematic.  The photo at the top is actually two photos stitched together by the computer to make one wide view, the computer program deciding what needs to be modified to make this happen.   I didn't post this one to the Belmar blog because one of the figures was a bit distorted by this process, but here it goes to my point.

More contentious were ideas that dealt with artistic intentions and decisions.  Part of the debate was over the use of black and white.  For over a century, essentially all photography was black and white, and because of limitations in reproduction, for even longer all journalism was reproduced in black and white.  (for years I had to shoot black and white photos of my woodcuts to send to newspapers, for promotion and reviews, as they couldn't print color photos of my color artwork)  It was accepted, because it was the only possibility.  But one person asked if it would be permissible today.   Digital is the standard these days, color film is everywhere for those who use it, and most newspapers and magazines can print color.  So would choosing to shoot news in black and white be a decision to intentionally alter the reality of what was seen, or at least limit the information shown to the viewer?  It was all somewhat interesting, but I took off around 8 pm, needing to go back home and download and edit photos for two blog posts I put up last night.  I figured this could wait until tonight.

Later last night I had another slightly related realization.  Black and white photography started in the early 1800's, went though stages of metal and glass plates before film became dominant in the 20th century.  Black and white became the standard for journalism, but also for a lot of "art" photography.  By the turn of the current century, shooting black and white film became rare.  The two colleges I currently work at, one dropped all the popular black and white photo classes years ago with no warning, and the other tried to a few years ago when the tenured professor who taught it retired, but had to bring a few back so majors could complete their degrees.  So the relatively modern medium of traditional film photography is almost dead, yet the ancient medium of woodcut printmaking still goes on.  I seem to have picked the one with more staying power.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Thrill is Gone

Put on the news this morning shortly after I got up, and the news crawl at the bottom of the tv screen had some sad news- BB King had died.  This was not a shock- he's old, and has been sick for a while, entering hospice care recently.  It deserves mention here, because blues music and my art have been linked for a long time.  I officially became an art major in college right around the time that I was training to be a radio disc jockey with plans to host a blues music show.  No real relation between the two except that both became part of my life around the same time.  Sometimes I used the music as inspiration and subject in prints.  Above is an etching I did in the spring of my junior year, which served as both a class project and became a poster for my show.  My print professor that semester was a bigger fan of the radio show than my prints, but I was still doing etching back then, not yet tried my first woodcut.

Following my first degree, I moved back to New Jersey and started working on my second degree at Montclair State.  In those years I had the habit of attending an annual blues festival in Philadelphia, in a large open air space right on the river.  Philly doesn't have a major blues tradition, but this festival was able to draw a lot of big names, both legends and up and coming musicians.  Saw John Lee Hooker there, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy, Buckwheat Zydeco, a whole bunch of Alligator Records artists, like Lonnie Brooks, and Lil' Ed.  One of my favorites of all the times I went was an acoustic set from Cephas and Wiggins, a Piedmont style duo.  We all just sat on the brick paved ground around the stage.  I was a fan from an album of theirs I played regularly on my show, but the live performance had an extra kick to it.  The photo I took above went on to inspire two prints.

I used the image of guitarist John Cephas in the above multi color experimental image from 1991, and more recently below as a multi block demo piece for a linoleum workshop I was teaching in the Studio a few years ago.

BB King was probably the biggest name in blues music in most of my lifetime.  People who knew nothing about the music usually at least knew his name.  And he had several studio albums come out during the years I was on the air, but I never played them on my show.  Way overproduced, sound smoothed until profoundly dull, extensive credits for drum machine programmers for each song.  That ain't blues.  But King live was another story.  He and his large band spent decades performing 250 to 300 shows a year, a professional group of musicians, with BB's legendary guitar work front and center.  (live King records that came in got played, as well as occasional cuts from my copy of BB King Live at Cook County Jail)

BB King also showed up at the Philadelphia festival once, and the performance did not disappoint.  So on this sad day, I'll enjoy these shots I took down in Philly about 25 years ago, and let his signature guitar sound play through my head.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Another Late Critique

Once again, the critique group was delayed from its usual first Monday of the month slot.  Molly had been involved in the play where she teaches and suggested the 2nd Monday to give her time to rest up.  I was teaching my last woodcut class on the 1st Monday, so I agreed.  I confirmed the date with her late  last week, then got the e-mails out.  And of course on Saturday she told me she wasn't going to come after all.  Can't say I was surprised.  Got up to Studio by around 5 pm to make sure I had parking and to sketch out an idea for the next print, so I'd have something to show.

Got close to 7:00 and I was still by myself, but then some of our regulars started to show.  We ended up  with a total of 4, including myself.  This group had missed me presenting my completed supermarket rubble print, and were asking me about it, so I included it as part of my presentation.  The above photo shows my rubble block and a rough sketch for my Battle of Hastings inspired print, plus two new blocks in progress from Mary, and three small sculptures from Margery.

Above are two rubbings Mary took of her new blocks, both of which have some really detailed and delicate carving.  She's really enjoying her newly acquired top of the line tools.  Below are four small mixed media paintings from Sheilagh.

Despite the use of the timer, we did digress from the art in front of us a few times, but still we finished a few minutes early.

War in the Supermarket

School will be over for me in a few days, so it's time to start thinking about the next print.  Plus, we had scheduled the next critique group for tonight  and I do like having something to talk about.  A new saint or supermarket print is the typical plan in a case like this.  As for an idea, back in March I witnessed and blogged about an incident where I do my Sunday morning shopping, one employee yelling at another, a dispute regarding language (English vs French).  With these prints it is my policy to not ask, but just note what I observe and figure out later how it's art.  At the time I thought about a language class being set up in produce (where this went down), but it's not that exciting a story.  However this weekend I looked at the original incident again, but this time some other things I had been reading up on recently were in my brain and I thought of another possibility.  What if this was more about an actual battle?  The French and English mixed it up many times over the last thousand years, but the most famous single battle was Hastings in 1066, a date we high school students were instructed was the most important date to remember in all of history.  (Me, neither English nor French, I can think of other more significant dates in western history.)  It does come with a major artwork, the Bayeux Tapestry, a 300 foot long embroidery that tells the whole story with a mixture of images and text, perhaps history's first comic book.  Could be an interesting angle.

So this morning I needed to shop anyway, and brought something small I could sketch in.  Sketched a few views of the area where the original argument had occurred.  Got up to the Studio around 5:00, a very busy time on Monday nights in general, especially in play season.  I eventually got to the point of the above sketch.  The giant umbrella is in that part of the store, but also hides a dull section of ceiling.  Threw in some Latin text, found all through the original tapestry.  In this early version, since the yelling employee put himself on that side, a British flag hangs on the u-boat cart.  (not authentic to the period, but there were no national flags then, so something a 21st century viewer would understand will do)  My thinking is that the employees I put into the composition will be dressed in normal work uniforms, but will have the contorted poses common the the characters in the tapestry.  Don't know yet if I'll even be doing this as a print, but at least I had something for tonight's group.

Monday, May 04, 2015

One Down, Three to Go

A few weeks ago I received a very lovely card from the Belmar Arts Council.  The cover was a collage of photos of some of activities of the past few years.   Familiar images since I had shot most of them in my position as BAC blogger.  The card was an invitation to a special cocktail party at a local bar, appreciation for the many people who do a lot of hard work for group.  I noticed that the party was scheduled for Monday, May 4th.  A day when the bar would normally be able to host a special party.  Also a day when I had a scheduled woodcut class for the Belmar Arts Council.  As usual, woodcut and printmaking get little respect.

Anyway, I had a more exclusive event to attend, the final meeting of the spring woodcut class.  I was set up about 15 minutes before the scheduled start, which is good because they always show up before the scheduled start.  Last week Nannette pulled a first proof of her block, and had fun with it over the past week, pulling proofs on a variety of papers, doing some chin colle with some paper she had made herself, even some mixed media stuff.  Barbara, who had acquired a set of new tools, spent the week finishing her first block and was ready to print tonight.  We got some other stuff out of the way first, including more information dispersal, then we got to printing.  I tore pieces of paper while my hands were still clean.  I gave an inking demonstration using the Outlaw Black, much different from the water washable ink from last week.  I pulled a first proof for Barbara on Lightweight, then let her try the whole thing on a piece fo Heavyweight, which will work well with her plan to try some hand coloring. Had another piece of the heavier paper for Nannette, and let her try the whole process as well.  Then the last demonstration- how to clean up after using oil based ink.  Both students were pleased with the results of their four weeks of woodcut study, as well as the prints they finished.  Soon I will need to pick dates for the summer sessions, while dates are still available for the incredibly busy Boatworks.

So that's one spring class finished.  Two of my spring college classes will finish later this week, and my other college class will finish early next week.  At least I don't have to grade tonight.