Earlier this year, I was invited to participate in the PDX-CSA program. The spirit of it is why I agreed: it offers affordably-priced original artwork at the concept stage, meant to encourage aspiring and nascent art collectors to invest (their reward being not only the finished art, but following along as the artists create the work), while offering artists a measure of financial security for their project yet preserving their creative autonomy (unlike most private commissions).
The individual projects are all priced at $175 or less, while “pairings” (related yet independent work by two simpatico artists) offer the opportunity to purchase two projects at a small (around 10%) discount: an instant collection.
I proposed small gouache pantings, in the manner of the Polygons series, focused around Portland’s Forest Park. $175 is probably the least anyone will ever pay for one of my original paintings, making the individual buy a great deal – and the pairing with Alyson Provax even better. I’ve long admired her work, and I’m thrilled by the chance to share ideas, influences, and hikes through our famed city wilderness.
The annual Southern Graphics Council International Conference is happening right here in Portland, Oregon from March 31 through April 2, 2016. Even if you aren’t a member of SGCI and aren’t officially attending the conference, many events are free and open to the public – including a few exhibitions I’m involved with: two as exhibitor and one as curator.
Iteration includes work by ten PNCA professors, staff and alumni. Mastery/Emergence features work by PAN members and Emerging Printmakers Residency graduates. The exhibition I curated at Upfor, Variable States: Prints Now, considers the intersection of printmaking and technology through work by eight artists from all over the United States.
Iteration: printmaking pop-up
March 31 – April 2, 2016
Reception March 31, 6:00–8:00pm
Hand-Eye Supply: 427 NW Broadway, Portland, OR
Mastery/Emergence: PAN Members & Emerging Printmakers
March 30 – June 1, 2016
Reception April 1, 5:00–8:00pm
ECOpdx: 2289 N Interstate, Portland, OR
Variable States: Prints Now
March 3 – April 9, 2016
SGCI NW Gallery Walk: March 31, 6:00–8:00pm
Artist talk: Brenna Murphy & Alyson Provax
Saturday, April 2 at 2:00pm
Upfor: 929 NW Flanders Street, Portland, OR
I will mediate the conversation between Brenna Murphy and Alyson Provax, centered around the co-evolution of printmaking and digital media, and how that relates to their respective practices. Murphy, working primarily in digital media, uses 2D and 3D printing and computer-aided design to manifest her ideas. Provax works in letterpress, silkscreen and etching; she recently began using these techniques to create animated gifs and digital video works.
Curious to see the completed version of what I’ve been working on for more thana year? Well, it’s up and ready for public consumption:
Semblant Geometries October 17 through November 15, 2014
Photo & Print Gallery at PNCA’s main campus
1241 N.W. Johnson St., Portland, OR 97209
Reception with the artist: Thursday, Nov. 6, 2014, from 6-8 p.m.
Where do math and metaphor meet? In this body of work, which includes a fine press book and etchings, printmaker Heather Lee Birdsong pairs the crisp visual language of planar geometry with folk tales. The application of metaphor (mathematically expressed as x = y) is a powerful associative tool that can unite otherwise unrelated elements.
This project was funded in part by an Individual Artist Project Grant awarded by the Regional Arts and Culture Council.
As some of you know, I am in the process of developing a body of work that uses elements in Euclidean geometry as metaphors for patterns in narrative (specifically from folk tales and/or common human interactions). A major goal for this project is to apply for a project grant through the Regional Arts and Culture Council, primarily to purchase paper and hire a leather worker to produce custom folios to house each edition of this body of work. (If the grant doesn’t work out, we’ll go to plan B, but I’m feeling pretty optimistic at the moment.)
After some searching and many conversations with an array of artisans and shop owners, I am pleased to announce that Wood and Faulk has agreed to create the folios. You may already be familiar with the fine products made by Matt Pierce, the designer and self-described tinkerer behind the Wood and Faulk label. If you are not, please check out his wares at his newly-redesigned online shop, shop.woodandfaulk.com, or visit any of the fine stores listed here (I’m a fan of Beam & Anchor myself). I’ve followed Matt’s blog for a little while now, and have long been impressed with the quality of Wood and Faulk wares. I’m certain that the folios will be the perfect packaging for the Geometries prints – even though neither party is quite certain how they’re going to look yet, so don’t ask.
I’m particularly grateful that Anna, who also works at Wood and Faulk, and Matt have agreed to take on this commission because they don’t typically do custom work, and what I’m asking for is definitely out of the ordinary. I realized pretty early in the planning process that I wasn’t going to be able to do it by myself. I’m a printmaker, and learning all about leather just for this project is not feasible time-wise, and nothing I could produce on my own could possibly meet my standards for quality. Besides, why would I want to miss out on an opportunity to work with some of the talented people who are already knowledgeable about working with leather? Though, in all honesty, I don’t think I realized exactly how clueless I am until Matt started asking me questions about what I wanted.
Don’t get too excited yet though – this project will be a while in the making. If you’re interested in learning more about it as things develop, please check back periodically for updates (all posts regarding this project will be tagged “Geometries”). You can also subscribe to this blog to get my posts directly in your inbox (or in your WordPress Reader if that’s your thing). If you’d rather only get updates about the Geometries project in particular, I suggest signing up for my newsletter through Tiny Letter, since that’s pretty much all I’m going to write about in the newsletter for the next year. I’ll likely be sending out the inaugural letter in the next few weeks.
On a more personal note:
My partner and I celebrated our third anniversary this weekend, and it was wonderful. He gave me a book: Suppressed Plates by G. S. Layard, 1907. I’m looking forward to reading it; a casual perusal piqued my interest. But then, he always does such a good job choosing books for me. It’s got cancelled plates from Charles Dickens and Punch, stuff by William Hogarth and George Cruikshank, and switched heads and taboo subjects (not that much of it is salacious, really; there are plenty of boring reasons why a publisher or an author might object to an illustration). Anyone who reads this blog with any regularity knows how much I love sharing books, so you can check out a digital (and not nearly as pretty) copy of this book here.
This is one of my preparatory sketches and early concepts from my undergraduate thesis at PNCA. If you click on the image to see the larger version, you can read my note that says, “Needs some kind of border,” which ultimately directed the format I used for Stories From the Stone House. I like this sketch, but it didn’t fit with other images from the suite as the aesthetic of the project developed. Still, it kind of nagged at me that I didn’t have a use for this.
This is where keeping sketchbooks came in handy: a couple of years later (this year), when I needed something for a print exchange and felt like I had too many ideas to focus, I flipped through a few of my sketchbooks, and came across this again.
“A-ha!” I thought, “finally, a use for this.”
The title is a quote from Vladimir Nabokov’s infamous novel Lolita. It’s a difficult book for me to read because the first part of it feels so gnawingly familiar; and Humbert Humbert, that horrible raconteur, reminds me of a monster I once knew (though my monster was not half so charming or intelligent). The quote I used is from later in the novel, when H. H. has a moment of realization: that Lolita is an individual, and that she has depths that he did not and could never know about. It’s one of the only places in the novel where her abuser sees her as an actual human being and not just a fetish object. It’s a razor thin moment where the balance of power becomes skewed between them, and one feels a shred of hope for Lolita, for the internal life she might live, because her exterior life is so unrelentingly terrible.
But it’s not a resolute thing. Lolita is never given her own voice, and we are left to guess at and interpret who she is between the lines of H. H.’s lyrical expression of his pathetic self-justifications and illicit desires. Those are the things in that story that most disturb me: the things that readers cannot know. It is a story about her abuser’s version of her, so much so that the title isn’t even actually her name, but the nickname he bestowed on her – an act that completely erases her identity. Who remembers what her “real” name is?
All these complex ideas about storytelling, perspective, identity, and power seemed appropriate for the print exchange. The theme is Gray Area.
For the initial etch, I used a carelessly treated but new copper plate, coated with a thin layer of ball ground and drawn through pretty thoroughly. I wanted it to be dark and rough.
My print, I fear, is a clumsy translation of the sketch. After pulling the first proof, I scraped, burnished, and scratched into the plate using drypoint.
I’m not sure that I’m completely satisfied with the image yet, but I ran down to the deadline for the exchange and had to print and mail it. I’m not sure that I’d get anything finished if I didn’t find or make deadlines to meet! This is the second state, the first to be editioned:
I think it’s safe to say that you can expect a third state, and even a fourth. This plate seems to want a lot of work, and I’m willing to dedicate myself to nitpicking and fine-tuning it. If it comes out at all well, I’m sure you’ll see it later.