Sunday, December 30, 2012

Christmas cards

This year I decided to make a limited edition lino-cut. Having not done any print making for a very long time, it was a steep learning curve. First I had to track down some block inks – ultramarine was relatively easy to locate, but silver proved more illusive. Cornellisen's came up trumps finally, whilst the paper came from Atlantis.

I bought two thicknesses of Khadi Cotten Rag and wanted to use the thicker 320gms, but that involved an expensive afternoon at Thames Barrier Print Studios, hiring the use of their almost clapped out old press – with mixed results, and unfortunately there wasn't time to put on a second colour.

The edition was ultimately produced in my studio with a hand roller on the thinner paper. A test showed the ultramarine needed some black in the mix to create a stronger colour.

The mis-registering was deliberate – the white show-through on the silver layer meant to convey snow sitting on the 'fruit'.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Silhouettes and Kara Walker

The Willow Pattern, viewed by candle-light (the usual night-time illumination at the end of the 18th century), appears like a silhouette. A vogue for making silhouettes and the art of shadow portraiture swept across western Europe in the last decades of the 18th century. This may have been influenced by Chinese fretwork, and the lattice work of furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. Silhouette art became a popular pastime, requiring only scissors, a candle and black paper; the art was taught in fashionable schools, and a major treatise was written in 1792 by a Dutch artist August Edouart (who had previously been a painter on Delft pottery).

The art of the silhouette was already popular in the East. The Chinese enjoyed shadow plays, and at the end of the 17th century were making iron 'pictures', designed to be mounted in windows or in lanterns, or hung on walls. A noted iron artist in the early 18th century was T'ang P'eng, who often featured the willow tree. Similar depictions found their way into the English drawing room in friezes.

Kara Walker is a major American artist whose signature works are silhouettes – paper-cut installations, using black paper and scissors. I first saw her work at Tate Modern in 2007. Kara uses the 'genteel' art of 'the oppressor' to create stories that would never have been told at the time.
The historical setting for much of Kara Walker’s work is the American pre—Civil War antebellum South. While this is the backdrop for many of her scenes, Walker does not represent a necessarily truthful depiction of history. Fact, fiction, and fantasy are intertwined; exaggerated truths and fictionalized events parade as history lessons that viewers must unpack, sort out, and ultimately decide which elements are true. Through this scrambling of “truth,” The artist is also commenting on the way that official history, particularly that of African Americans, is just as constructed as her stories.
Kara Walker describes her work as both visual and literary. Literature such as southern romance novels, historical fiction, slave narratives, and contemporary novels influence the artist's practice of storytelling, while some texts are directly referenced in her pieces. Like a novelist, Walker employs characters, setting and action to convey a story. These narratives are not always linear, however, and don’t necessarily include a clear plot line. In the artist’s words, “There is always a beginning and there’s never a conclusion.” Walker is interested in the stories we tell about ourselves, and specifically, a desire for a narrative about “African America” that engages the past, present, and future.
Text and image © of Walker Art Center (all artworks and quotations by Kara Walker © the artist, courtesy Sikkema Jenkins & Co, New York).

© Installation view of My Complement, My Enemy, My Oppressor, My Love at Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Photo: Sheldan C. Collins.