Monthly Archives: June 2016

CLOSE BY CLOSE

Margaret, this one’s for you: a world-class exhibit of Chuck Close’s work at the Schack Art Center in Everett, WA. It’s a printmaker’s dream of nearly 90 works plus lots of process materials. Luckily,  it’s open until September 4, so you can see it when you return from your London adventures.

close1The show begins with Close’s first mezzo print, Keith/1972. The huge plates are scribed with a grid which recurs in his work in other print methods. You get the idea that he sees the world in fat pixels.

We visited the day after opening. As we went in the door, Dale Chihuly (he of the pirate eyepatch and the splendiferous art glass) was just leaving. Upstairs, Chuck himself, seated in his wheelchair, held forth in a crowded room flooded with sunlight.

 

Screen Shot 2016-06-22 at 11.25.28 AM

Did you know that Chuck Close was born in the hamlet of Monroe, Washington? Back in 1940. Chuck’s dad died when he was 11 and he and his mom moved to Everett. Acacemics were difficult for him. Years later he discovered he has an unusual form of dyslexia. I wonder how much his grid-dled view is the result of a physiologically different way of seeing the world? The young Chuck was a skilled artist, however, and early on learned realistic drawing techniques, like perspective. After graduating from Everett High, he went on to major in art at Everett Junior College, then on to UW in 1960 and an MFA from Yale. At Yale, one of his classmates was sculptor Richard Serra.

After Yale, Close set up shop in New York. He got famous in the late 60’s for his nine-foot tall paintings of heads – his friends’ and his own. And heads are what you will see at this exhibit.

The great thing about this show is that process is on display with the imagery. It is fascinating to see working proofs and copper plates and lino blocks and graphs and printing hue notes. The works are etchings and aquatints and lithographs, silk screen, Japanese woodcut, reduction linocuts and even images made of paper pulp that was carefully color coded and poured into a grid onto a wet paper backing.

If I could have one of these beautiful pieces, I would choose Cecily/Felt Hand Stamp 2012. Again, the grid underlies the image. Felt stamps were used to apply oil paints on a silkscreen ground.

 

 Cecily/2012, close up on right.

Much of Close’s work in this exhibit was created in collaboration with master printers. It starts with those huge mezzotints and ends with his most recent work.

Extra bonus: the exhibition space has a printshop in the back, and the sweet smell of ink seeps into the galleries.

Chuck Close: Prints, Process and Collaboration, through Sept. 5, the Schack Art Center, 2921 Hoyt Ave., Everett. General admission is $10; Schack members, seniors, military and youth pay $5; children are free. Check the Schack website, www.schack.org, to find out about free-admission Mondays. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Closed Independence Day. Extended hours to 8 p.m. on June 16, July 21 and Aug. 18. Books about Close are offered for sale.

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Zuleika and the Strange Bean

In February I was given the seed of an idea by Jennifer Kennard of Letterology.

zuleika and bean

One crafternoon at her house I made a paper doll with articulated appendages. Over the next month or so I made a lot of them at home.

Paschkis paper dollsPaschkis crocodile

It was fun to make them move.

backbend

I wanted to make a movie but I had no idea how to do it. Once again Jennifer planted a seed. She suggested contacting Seattle Central College and seeing if a student there could help me.  Enter Sam To!Sam ToIMG_1438

Sam is a design student at Seattle College. (He graduates this week). He knows how to do stop motion animation, 3-d animation and many other kinds of design. He is comfortable with technology. He is efficient and responsible and flexible. We met, and I explained that I wanted to make a stop animation movie where my characters danced around. He suggested that we make a story – not just a dance. So I made up a story about a character named Zuleika. I cut some new dolls. Sam came to my studio.
Lights! Camera!  Rearrange lights! Rearrange camera! Try again!

The table had to be dismantled and the camera tucked into the rafters. Then Sam took many many pictures while I rearranged the dolls. A few weeks later he made the images into a movie called Zuleika and the Strange Bean.  The seed of an idea had sprouted.

paschkis paper dolls

Click on the title here to watch our movie Zuleika and the Strange Bean . (The music starts a few seconds after the visuals…)

Now I would like to plant a seed. Sam has just graduated. Hire him!
If you are looking to hire someone at your design firm you couldn’t do better than Sam. He is capable, creative and responsible. He has lots of ideas and can make them happen. You can see his portfolio  here at www.hieuto.com or contact him at sam@hieuto.com. Thank you.

Paschkis paper doll

A New Childhood: Picture Books From Soviet Russia

The New Childhood entry poster House of Illustration

Last week I returned to House of Illustration to see their current show – A New Childhood: Picture Books From Soviet Russia.

It is an excellent, eye-opening exhibit. I snapped a few subversive shots to share with you.

Before the October Revolution of 1917, children’s books were beautifully illustrated but expensive. Only children of the upper classes were regularly taught to read. Children’s books were not for the masses.

bilibin feast cakeIvan Bilibin, 1895

After the end of the Tsarist regime, fairy tales were considered irrelevant. Children were reimagined as “builders of the new egalitarian future.” New children’s books would promote socialist beliefs and give practical instruction.

Galina & Olga Chichagova 1925-posterGalina and Olga Chichagova, poster design with text by A. Galena, 1925.

“The images of old storybooks. Out with the mysticism and fantasy of children’s books!! Give a new children’s book!! Work, battle, technology, nature – the new reality of childhood.

On the positive side, during this time there was a blossoming of creativity in children’s literature. The influence of folk art as well as past art movements and picture books from Europe converged in these new books.

Eduard Krimmer 1926-How The Whale Got His ThroatEduard Krimmer, How the Whale Got His Throat (Rudyard Kipling) 1926.

Illustrators explored new styles and techniques. The Soviet government lifted a Tsarist ban on Yiddish publishing.

Issachar Ber Ryback 1922-In The Forest coverIssachar Ber Ryback for In The Forest (Leib Kvitko) 1922.

Books were considered valuable tools in disseminating new ideals. Publishers flourished.

Eduard Krimmer 1925-NumbersEduard Krimmer, Numbers, 1925

Vera Ermolaeva 1925-Top Top TopVera Ermolaeva, Top-Top-Top (Nikolai Aseev), 1925

Absurdism proved useful in communicating the regime’s ideas.

Iureii Annenkov 1918-The FleaIllustrations for The Flea (Natan Vengrov) by Iurii Annenkov, c. 1918

Konstantin Rudakov’s work was humorous and zany, but considered “bourgeois dregs” by Nadezhda Krupskaya, noted theorist and Lenin’s wife. Some of his books were banned.

Kostantin Rudakov 1926-TelephoneKonstantin Rudakov, Telephone, 1926

Picture books would show children how to build the future.

Evgenia Evenbakh 1926-The TableEvgenia Evenbakh, The Table, 1926

Aleksandr Deineka 1930-ElectricianAleksandr Deineka, Electrician (B. Uralski), 1930

Tevel Pevzner 1931-The Cow ShedTevel Pevezner, The Cow Shed (Evgeny Shvartz), 1931

Tevel Pevzner 1931-The Poultry YardTevel Pevezner, The Poultry Yard (Evgeny Shvartz), 1931

Georgii Echeistov 1930-What It Carries Where It Travels 1 Georgii Echeistov 1930-What It Carries Where It Travels 2 Georgii Echeistov 1930-What It Carries Where It Travels 3 Georgii Echeistov 1930-What It Carries Where It Travels 4Georgii Echeistov, What It Carries Where It Travels, 1930

Unknown 1934-First Counting BookUnknown illustrator, First Counting Book (F. N. Blekher), 1934

The circus was still popular, but the Lion was no longer portrayed as King of the beasts. Instead he was President.

Maria Siniakova 1929-CircusMaria Siniakova, Circus (Nikolai Aseev), 1929

Vladimir Lebedev 1925-CircusVladimir Lebedev, Circus (Samuil Marshak) 1925

Marshak quote

Some illustrators were still determined to show children at play and having fun. Some got away with it.

Vladimir Konashevitz 1925-Unpublished illustration-Pictures For Little OnesVladamir Konashevitz, unpublished illustration for Pictures For Little Ones, 1925

Vladimir Konashevitz 1925-MugsVladamir Konashevitz, Mugs, 1925.

Others delved further into the new reality of childhood.

Aleksandr Deineka 1930-Red Army ParadeAleksandr Deineka, The Red Army Parade, 1930

The atmosphere of experimentation ended in the mid-1930s when “socialist realism” became the assigned aesthetic ideal. Children’s books could only support Soviet approved aspirations. State censorship was enforced. Yiddish publishing was no longer tolerated and high taxes caused many Russian publishers to close. Many illustrators continued to work but ceased experimenting. Some fled to Europe. Others were arrested.

I visited Soviet Russia when I was a child in 1970. What I remember most about Moscow was how bleak it was. Saint Basil’s Cathedral rose like a glorious fantasy out of the concrete. Everything else, including the people, was grey and heavy. Our guide was afraid to answer any of our questions. People spoke to us in whispers if they spoke to us at all. They were the children who had grown up under the Soviet regime.

For those of you who aren’t able to make it to London to see this show before it closes in September, you can look for the book, Inside the Rainbow, Russian Children’s Literature 1920-1935: Beautiful books, terrible times, which inspired House of Illustration to exhibit works from this collection.

Mixed Grades for Big Name Author Picture Books

Recently two big name authors of books for adults have forayed into picture books: Pulitzer Prize winner Jane Smiley and National Book Award winner Sherman Alexie.

cover thunder boy

IMG_1930

So how’d they do? I’m giving Alexie a B+ and Smiley a C. Perhaps I’m being harsh, but adult novels aren’t the only works that deserve some serious critical attention.

Of the two, I started out inclined toward Alexie. Mainly because in an article in the New York Times, he said, “It’s maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever written.” And he says the book Thunder Boy Jr. took about 70 drafts.

Jane Smiley didn’t seem find it so hard. Other than learning to let the images speak for themselves and cutting down a descriptive prose, apparently, for her the story was “a breeze” (although to be fair, those words are those of the New York Times reporter). Perhaps because as Smiley noted, “It doesn’t have a plot.”

If true, I’m afraid the difference in effort shows.

Alexie did a great job coming up with an idea and an execution that spoke to a univeral kid issue and, yet, was uniquely Native American, too. Thunder Boy Jr. was named by his father, Thunder Boy Sr. It’s not a normal name like Sam and Thunder Boy Jr. hates it.

hate my name

Little Thunder, as he’s called, wants his own name one that celebrates something cool that he’s done. He imagines all kinds of names for himself from Not Afraid of Ten Thousand Teeth (after he touched a wild orca) to Mud in His Ears for his love of playing in the dirt.

ten thousand teeth

The names are fun and imaginative. And kids will love this part and I have no doubt will be coming up with a lot of great names for themselves, and, undoubtedly, less than flattering names for their siblings. (I’m betting Poop and Fart make frequent appearances.)

At any rate, Thunder Boy Jr. doesn’t want to be a small version of his dad. He doesn’t want to be exactly like him. He wants to be mostly himself. But he’s worried about how he can tell his dad because he loves him very much.

Not to worry, Dad suddenly announces that it’s time to give Thunder Boy Jr. a new name. It will be Lightning! And Little Thunder happily concludes that together he and his dad will light up the sky.

dad and son

The language is clear and graceful with a nice rhythm and pacing to it. The names identify this boy with both contemporary life and his Native American heritage. And, as mentioned, the basic idea of picking a name for yourself has a lot of kid appeal.

But I would have liked a more organic ending. Alexie does the classic no-no in children’s books, which is to have an adult solve the problem for the kid. Not only does Dad spontaneously offer to change Thunder Boy Jr.’s name, he is the one to bestow the new name. And, arriving at the name Lightning could have been more clearly developed. The litany of possible new names that Little Thunder runs through show an energetic little boy. He loves drums and being chased by his dog and old toys from garage sales, but this list doesn’t really make the case that Lightning is the name he should have or would have chosen for himself.

I don’t think any of this will make a difference to the success of the book. It’s already been named an Honor Book for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards. And I think kids and parents will genuinely enjoy sharing it. It has a great, well-realized premise, and Alexie shows a respect for and an awareness of the particular demands of the picture book form.

Because Smiley seemed to find writing Twenty Yawns fairly easy, I have to admit I was less ready to like it. She’s right. There isn’t really much of a story here and what is there is pretty pedestrian.

dad in sand

Oddly, although the story is basically a bedtime story, it starts with a rather mundanely described day at the beach. Lucy covers her dad with sand and they “laughed and laughed.” Later, Lucy “rolled and rolled’ down a soft warm dune. Okay, I admit I have a visceral reaction to this particular wording in kids writing. Describing people who laugh and laugh, and animals who sit down and think and think, and kids who run and run just feels lazy to me.

The point of the day at the beach seems to be to establish that this has been a long, busy day, so tonight will be an early bedtime. So perhaps Lucy will struggle to sleep? There is a teeny bit of that. And for me the story starts about 12 pages in with this lovely arresting moment: The moon shone through the window, a silver veil that fell across the floor. Everything looked mysterious, even Lucy’s own hands on the bedspread. Suddenly, Lucy was wide awake.

IMG_1933 (1)

It even gets a little surreal or creepy: She looked around. Everyone in the pictures seemed to be watching her—Grandma, Grandpa, Aunt Elizabeth, Mom, and Dad.

So maybe the story will be about how Lucy deals with her unease? Lucy slips out of bed to get her bear, Molasses, but as she carries him back to her bed, the other toy animals are looking at her and seem lonely. So she takes them all to bed, snuggles down with them and everyone proceeds to yawn including the people in her drawings. And Lucy goes to sleep. That’s it.

IMG_1937

Smiley seems to think it’s okay that this is a book without a plot. And certainly there are picture books that don’t really have a story: board books, concept books, some of the more impressionistic books (like All the World). But there’s a difference between not having a story and not having a point.

Smiley doesn’t even really deliver on the promise of the title. There are indeed 20 yawns in the book, but there is no point to the yawns. Nothing is developed like perhaps number concepts or the different yawns different people or animals might make or a promise that no one can make 20 yawns without falling asleep. Surely something could have given this story some drive.

Bottom line: even if Thunder Boy Jr. was submitted by Anonymous Boy Jr., I think it would have been snapped up. If Twenty Yawns was the work of J. Frownly, I suspect it would have received those familiar words of rejection many of us know only too well—too slight.