Thursday, June 27, 2013

Star 82 Review: Issue 1.2

Our latest issue of Star 82 Review is now available for your perusal and purchase, should you so desire to own your very own. All proceeds go toward maintaining the costs of the magazine.

Online (always free)

Print (and through Amazon)

In the spirit of summer travel this issue features personal essays, poems, and stories that revolve around planes, trains, and automobiles. Layered and worthy of multiple readings, these pieces deal with parents and children, dreams and daydreams, life cycle events and life in general. Even the most fanciful pieces feel emotionally true.

The artwork is broad and colorful: photographs, altered postcards, a painting, and a ballpoint pen drawing. Leading this second issue is a page from A Humument app by Tom Phillips, king of the erasure text. (See my previous blog post about the app). Of particular note: artists and writers who make books, Susan E. King and Philip Zimmermann each have contributed pieces of postcard lit.

Ace Boggess
Daniel Buckwalter
Francis DiClemente
Kelly DuMar
Melanie Faith
Merlin Flower
Howie Good
Derek Graf
Kathleen Johnson
Susan E. King
Andrea Lewis
Jennifer MacBain-Stephens
Andrea Marcusa
M.V. Montgomery
Norman J. Olson
Richard King Perkins II
Tom Phillips
Charles Rammelkamp
Zack Rogow
Fabio Sassi
Merry Speece
Judith Tannenbaum
William Vernon
Changming Yuan
Philip Zimmermann

If you would like to submit work for future issues, please read the magazine to get a feel for the subject and style I'm interested in, and then follow the guidelines at

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Monday, June 24, 2013

At the Edge

The moment before. Standing on a bluff overlooking the ocean, no railing. Discovering a drawer you didn't know was there. Waiting at the door for a friend you haven't seen in twenty years. Teasing. Taunting. Anticipating. Form-fitting clothing almost too small. Lyrics heading in a fantastical direction. The edge is here. You can push up against it. Almost taste it. One step beyond, you're in free fall. Release or destruction. The other side.

The edge of understanding. The risk of not being heard. Miscommunication, non-comprehension. Farthest away from the best known.

Between. Childhood and adult life. Daylight and night light. Romanticism and practicality. Choice and imprisonment. Living with our demise inside us.

Almost kitsch. Almost broken. Almost perfect. Almost.

Being at the edge heightens the experience. Think or feel here. Unambivalent. You may be called upon to make a decision at any moment. Forward or backward? This is plot. 

We use the two flat sides of the paper to communicate; its four edges are useless, invisible until they cut. Sometimes we remember they are there. Aware.

An expanse of sand. An endless ocean. Horizons of water and land. If you are a fish, arriving at the land is perilous. If you breathe air and can swim, you rely on stamina and luck. If you fear the cold, your toes may wander just to the surf but not into it. Which side you are on depends on where you are coming from.

Sand pushed together to make a labyrinth makes edges. Walk with me.

Stinson Beach, 23 June 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Book Angle on Lebbeus Woods

A quote on the wall of the Lebbeus Woods exhibit at SFMOMA knocked me over, which unfortunately I did not transcribe at the time. He wrote, in essence, that we spend much of our life resisting hardships, decay, catastrophes rather than incorporating them into our designs. One of his blog posts touches on this idea of decay, accompanied by beautiful photos of ruins. Another blog post that tackles his notions of resistance. The exhibit featured some models that showed how a ruined structure might be strengthened including both the original building as well as some of its ruins. His models demonstrated how the building might show its history, but be rebuilt with integrity, so that it also functioned as an inhabitable space.

Of course, I immediately thought about books. Not just their deconstruction. We've seen artists who take books apart to let the bindings show, who tear fabric from the covers. But how one might start from scratch to design the book for its wear while possibly including hints of its future? Woods' work seems to do this with buildings. But that's what good art does: gives you itchy fingers, drills a new tunnel through a mountain you didn't know was even there.

I had hoped to take some photographs, but just as I was thinking about taking out my camera I noticed a man focusing his iPad on the wall. The guard charged over, "No photography! No taking pictures!" If only I had thought of that strategy: find the one piece you love and take a picture of it before the guard sees you. Online, of course, there are many ways to see the show. Photos that document it pretty well are here. But really, the drawings up close, in real life, are breathtaking, hard to capture online anyway.

Woods (1940-2012) is described as a "paper architect" because very few of his designs were built; they were highly conceptual. And I must admit that as I thought about families returning to bombed-out homes that had incorporated the scars of war into their design, I felt uneasy. I suspected they would want their homes remade as they were, that they would not want to have daily reminders of the trauma. Unfortunately, Woods, in his book Radical Reconstruction, along with some fascinating ideas, has some disturbing notions about what should and should not happen in architecture that I'm not convinced make sense in the real world. There is a lot of "what if" about it, which is great for art, but means you must suspend disbelief for life: building a house into an earthquake fault, for example. A friend and colleague from Cooper Union, where Woods taught, is quoted as saying that Woods, "always wanted us to feel a little uncomfortable in order to make things change." The words in the book definitely make the reader uncomfortable. Still, the pictures are exquisite. An example, I think, of how we do not have to agree with the artist's total philosophy to be inspired by his work. 

As an artist,Woods is inspirational, and his visions have been used with and without his permission in science fiction films such as Twelve Monkeys and Alien III, a film that was never made. Some great images are featured in an article in Wired February 2013. And his work has already convinced me to rethink some preconceived notions. 

Books, to me, are structures, places to inhabit. As makers of them we have a tendency to work on a grid, keep them in rectangular form. Photopolymer plates opened up the possibility for letterpress printing easily on a curve, but still the majority of printed work has sharp angles. For the most part, when paper is folded, it folds in straight lines. Bookbinding is built on precision, but I'm interested in developing and using that precision to express movement through its lines, not just through its words and/or images. Let's look at the possibility of movement through the architecture of the book, similar to Woods' incorporating the scar into the building. But because no lives are at stake, no feelings to consider, I think this concept can move into reality in an exciting new form. The adjectives to work with might be: twisting, exposing, staggering, layering, dangling, offsetting, rotating. And taking into account the shadows as well.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Customizing the Plain Black Journal

We've made many journals together, you and I. You would think, as I wrote on the last pages of my plain black (bought) sketchbook—it spanned nearly two years—I would be eager to try out one of the many handmade journals. Would it be the corduroy-covered one? The one with the found paper cover? One of the Sashiko-inspired ones? Er, none of the above. I like 8 1/2 x 11" pages. I went to the art store and bought another plain black sketchbook, this time a Cachet Classic Black Hardbound Sketch Book 8-1/2 x 11 inch. I have used various brands I like: Canson and Cachet are two, and I've used some house brands I don't like so much. I have found that the better quality ones are really better quality. The 70 lb. acid free paper is a good weight for various media (see my favorites at this post). And the bindings hold up much, much better. I had one cheap one that fell apart. How many are we talking about? I don't know. I used to go through three a year. The computer has slowed me down, so now it takes about one to two years to fill a plain black journal.

My pet peeve is a book with nothing on the cover: no design, no way of knowing which end is up. These black journals pose that problem. But I've found a way to customize them. Using our friend from a previous post, the mallet, and some alpha-numeric stamps commonly used for leather or metal such as  5/32-Inch Letter and Number Stamp Set, we can create a kind of faux foil stamping with the addition of a silver Sakura Pigma Gelly Roll Pen. Hit the punches into the cover. Color in the depressions.

Recently, I've started by giving the new journal a theme, something I'm thinking about at the moment. I don't worry if the contents eventually veer from the theme.

This time, I also had an idea for a frontispiece. I decided to do a colorless-blender transfer from a photocopy. It only works with a Chartpak Ad Marker Colorless Blender and a fresh copy or laserwriter printout (it does NOT work with inkjet, ONLY with toner-based prints). Choose a photo, then…
  1. Open the photo in Photoshop (I'm working with the ancient CS3)
  2. Go to Image<Mode<Grayscale
  3. Go to Image<Adjustments<Brightness/Contrast. Pull it up so that you can get as much light and dark contrast as possible.
  4. Go to Filter<Sharpen. Repeat until the image looks really crisp.
  5. Go to Image<Rotate Canvas<Flip Canvas Horizontal (I forgot to do this with my image).
  6. Go to Image<Image Size< Type in the size you want, mine was 4" x 5", 300ppi
  7. Print it out in black and white.
Materials: fresh photocopy or printout; waxed paper (to protect other pages); journal or other paper; colorless blender; bone folder

Find a place to work outside; the fumes from the blender pen are nasty. Put a piece of waxed paper between the first two pages of the journal as a barrier (remove it after you've completed your transfer). On the first page, place your photo face down where you want it to go. Use the blender and color the back of the photo. Work in small areas, about a quarter of the image at a time. When the paper becomes a bit translucent, use a bone folder to burnish the image. You should be able to lift up the printout periodically to check on the image. Success depends on the amount of solvent plus the amount of pressure. It may vary, depending on the kind of paper you are using and the contrast of the image. My old blender pen ran out of solvent after I finished the face…

So (oh darn, just kidding) I had to go to the art supply store and buy another to try again. In the Ad Marker display the blender pen said only "blender" and not "colorless blender." It's the same. This time in Photoshop I added type and used the pencil tool to scribble digitally on the photo before I reversed the complete image and printed it out.

It takes some experimentation to figure out which photos are going to work. The higher the contrast, the better. But, never fear, even muddy prints can be the background for some interesting colored pencil drawings.

Back to the cover: here are other alphabet styles for the stamps. You can get them at some craft supply stores, at Tandy Leather (they have little icons such as a music note, acorn, leaf, skull and crossbones, rattlesnake, and even a tiny footprint as well as Native America symbols and more), and through the links connected to the images, below. These are terrific stamps to use when making Distressed Book Covers as well.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Ecotopia: An Interview with Celeste Connor

My friend and colleague Celeste Connor, who already holds a PhD in Art History, worked toward her MFA in Fine Arts for seven years while she taught at CCA. She installed her culminating MFA exhibition in the Nave at California College of the Arts on the San Francisco campus in May 2013. It featured an integrated mixture of natural materials and found and altered books. Here are excerpts from an interview with Celeste, accompanied by pictures of her installation, which she calls The Ecotopian Archive.

AG: Last summer you had written a story about a post-apocalyptic archive and were thinking of creating your installation around that concept. Can you tell us what prompted you to create Ecotopia?

CC: Iʼd been gleaning things, furniture and other folks’ idea of trash, from the streets in my neighborhoods for years. Living amid these finds slowly conjured up a visual image of The Ecotopian Archive in my imagination, virtually as you see it today. I tried hard to match my initial image/impression in 3-D. This image also gave rise to a post-apocalyptic tale, once I began to examine and question what I was doing and imagining. I deduced, from details of the image, that a terrible catastrophe had occurred and that the location was Earth. I think I told you at the time that the rough story of The Archive and its creators seemed as if “dictated to me” in one sitting. Many iterations after that “dictation,” I turned the story in as my written MFA thesis.

AG: Books seem to be at the center of this installation.

CC: Yes, books became central since they were the most plentiful “things” I could acquire free. Since my medium is gleaned and salvaged things, I benefit from the fact that folks are discarding soft- and hard-backs for Nooks and Kindles at an accelerating rate. In this installation I display books mainly as things, not as textual arguments. Many are pasted shut and only permit access to one page spread. I'd been reading Heidegger's theory of art, particularly Thing Theory; unlike more recent ideas, his seemed to me deeply reflective, but hopeful.

AG: Who is the woman in the video and what is she saying?

CC: In the video component you see and hear my dear friend Sydney Carson (the Founding Director of the Bay Area’s little gem: Nightletter Theater) in costume delivering K-Nova’s “Welcome to the State of Ecotopia” speech, recorded by the Ecotopian Minister of Visual Culture in 2084. It is believed that the Ecotopian President and her Minister planted the video in The Archive so that repatriating Neotopians, returning from colonies on The Moon and Mars, would be reminded of the history of planet Earth, the Great Cataclysm, and especially of the Ecotopian Secession—if and when they returned to their former capitol on the rejuvenated, verdant planet. My idea was to make the two main characters—the Third President of Ecotopia, K-Nova, and her Minister of Visual Culture, Rrosa Seconda, who is introduced to visiters to The Archive as the maker of the video—more dimensional. Visitors are welcomed to imagine themselves as Neotopians.

AG: The installation is a compilation of various books and natural objects. Some you clearly fashioned: a branch that seems to be growing through some books; a series of paintings of red worms; books with nails in them; a shoji screen remade with player piano paper (one of my favorites). Can you talk a little about these? 

CC: I got so deeply into making things in the final months of prep for the MFA show: the small worm portraits, the worm lino prints on old book pages, the 157 photos of the wigglers... that I had to leave a few things out of the exhibit due to the constraints of a 10x10 foot space allotment. The Shoji Screen you commented on is a bit of a clue, I think, that the ensemble has extended roots in Arts and Crafts and early artist-socialist initiatives. It is also the most challenging re-purposing effort in the installation, deliberately emphasizing skilled handwork as an irreplaceable social value. Our opposable thumbs are only enviable if they are finely attuned.

(also the title of the 1940s Xavier Cugat song on the scroll)
includes 1940s scraps of wallpaper at the edges

AG: As you prepared for this installation what kinds of revelations did you have? 

CC: I had friends and acquaintances who focused on installation art in the 1990s, and I always wanted to but worried about the costs (including the cost of storage space and moving fees.) So I began to contrive a plan to work with trash. In fact, in 1999 I created an undergrad seminar at CCA called “Trashformations.” Many of the ideas I gleaned (in prepping the seminar) shaped my thinking. Eco has slowly become, for me as for many others, an adjunct to—even an alternative to—Marxian, Feminist or Queer points of view on arts and culture and society.

from The Lichen Books series
(living lichen planted to grow from the pages)

AG:  I’m wondering if any or all of the objects you’ve chosen to arrange have stories behind them? Can you tell us about a few? 

CC: Yes, the things are all stories, singularly—through repurposing—or in assemblages where an alteration, or three, has been made. One of the most rewarding things that happened for me while the show was open was that most everyone I met who visited The Archive volunteered their own stories about The Archive, or about some specific things assembled in The Archive. In the installation there are many commemorative “shrines” to artists I want to celebrate, and—with luck—jar the memory and the inquisitiveness of Archive visitors. 

AG: What about the book groupings like two copies of Steal this Book with Uncle Tom’s Cabin and The Autobiography of Malcolm X?

CC: Uncle Tom's Cabin was the best-selling novel of the 19th century; the second best-selling book after the Bible. It was credited by historians with helping fuel the abolitionist cause in the 1850s. During the Bush years the negative associations of Uncle Tom's Cabin somewhat overshadowed the historical impact of the book as a vital antislavery tool. I raise questions about the reinterpretation by including it with the equally-assaulted ideas of Malcolm X and Abbie Hoffman, represented by the archived copies of their thoughts. Ecotopians are interested in the artifact titled Uncle Tom's Cabin because it was written in a currently deplored sentimental style often labeled Women's Fiction: a rhetorical style crafted to evoke a reader's emotions and empathy. The Ecotopians re-claim and repurpose this discarded style.

AG: It seem that the Ecotopians are very political…

CC:  Ecotopians, who seceded from the U.S. in 1980 largely over Green issues, are self-professedly radical eco-feminists. Radical environmentalisms emerged out of concern about the perceived co-option of mainstream environmentalism. The radical position presupposes a need to reconsider Western notions of spirituality and philosophy (including capitalism, patriarchy, globalization, sometimes through what is called resacralizing—I also say enshrining) and reconnecting with nature in a variety of forms.

AG: What does the work say as a whole?

CC: My assemblages of things (gloriously rusted hand-tools—that are pedestal-ized as “tool beings” in recent Thing Theory—a cocooned Elvis, an earth-dyed chair cover) create contexts that communicate more than any one independent thing. Single things might sometimes have special significance for me, like The Autobiography of Malcolm X itself. Reading the words at seventeen made me realize that not everyone who had written in the auto-bio genre was deserving of preserving themselves in paper and inks; while the Muslim minister and human rights activist had crafted a unique, powerful model of persuasive voice in art.

AG: Thank you so much for your time, Celeste! Is there anything that you’d like to address that we didn’t cover?

CC: As the curator and conservator of The Ecotopian Archive, I would like to thank you most sincerely for your interest in our Archive. And I want to assure you no red wigglers were harmed in the creation of this installation. I hope The Archive has some opportunities to reappear. One very cool visitor to it decided the only thing for me do next was to load The Ecotopian Archive into a re-purposed, trash-fueled, bus and tour the country charging admission. There are “souvenirs” of the show available. All my mementos are one of a kind and handmade.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Distressed Book Covers

Need a stress-reliever camouflaged as an art project? You can relax and make some nice looking book covers with 4-ply museum board and acrylic inks. But first, take up your mallet! Hit metal objects into the soft board until you feel satisfied. A version of the distressed covers showing simulated wood is on page 216 of Making Handmade Books: 100+ Bindings, Structures & Forms. I show this technique to my college students right after midterms. 

You can purchase a mallet at your local hardware store. If you don't see one, ask. I discovered that although they only cost a couple of dollars, they were locked inside a glass case: the most stolen item in the store. 

Materials: mallet, metal objects, knife, brush, 
acrylic paints (regular or liquid, but not inks: I used
black, red, and silver), 4-ply museum board, torn paper
(and a piece of paper towel, not shown)

With the mallet, pound different objects into the board 
and make a variety of marks.

Use the knife to cut a large random shape.
Dig into the corner and begin to 
peel away one of the layers of the board.

Peel up the shape.

Your raw distressed board.

Brush on the red and black paints randomly.
Paint the front, back and all four edges of the board.

Using the wet paint as an adhesive, brush the printed paper
into the shape/depression you made with the knife.

You can leave it like this.
Or you can add more color.

When the previous paints are dry, brush silver paint over them.

Wipe it away with a paper towel in some spots.

Looks a bit ghostly, a bit urban now.

Get metallic and add rivets, if you like.
(This is a different board.)
You can also make nicks in the edges.
The three holes on the left could be used
as sewing stations for any Coptic Binding (pages 174-183).

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mapping the Maps at the de Young Museum

Tuesday was free day at the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park, and because I had an assignment from the book arts educators reading group to go see the Mapping the Contemporary Print exhibit, I made a visit. It's kind of a follow up to the book we read, Mapping the Imagination (previous post here). Maps don't have the appeal to me that I know they have for many artists, but I'm willing to keep exploring them. And I'm almost always happy to analyze something.

The print wing is just one room, but the exhibits there are treated seriously and each features a complimentary full-color booklet that lists the prints. Today's booklet explains that this show looks at how various artists have "represented the world they faced." I thought all art did this, but here the term "map" seems to be used as a catchall for art about a geographical location. Or maybe my definition of a map is too narrow.

The terms "identification" and "contemplation" are mentioned in the booklet. Vija Celmins' Globe (2010) allows for both: she has created, or rather recreated, a familiar globe/map of the earth, by printing on soft Japanese paper, handcoloring it, and sewing it together. It hangs from a wood pole, casting a moving shadow as the air moved by the viewer moves around the globe. I heard other visitors discussing if it was really colored by hand. (No? Really? How could it be?) We identify the globe, then contemplate how it was made.

Flattening becomes a key way to represent a space/place: aerial views are the most obvious use of flattening. Richard Diebenkorn's 1965 prints,  published by Crown Point Press are of hillside intersections in San Francisco. Ed Ruscha's 2001 prints, published by Mixografia Workshop, also show flattened landscapes; they depict single intersections in Los Angeles: Pacific Coast Highway/Sunset Boulevard, and Hollywood/Vine and Pico/Sepulveda and Laurel Canyon/Ventura Boulevard. Ruscha's prints seem minimalistic until you look carefully at the textures (which were physically incorporated into the printing process), the varied colors even in what looks like one color, and the reflective bits scattered throughout. 

Alfred Jensen, one of many artists included, who created a color lithograph in the book 1¢ Life by Walasse Ting (1962), depicted New York City in this spread as a series of color blocks and arrows. We get an immediate feeling of constant movement and excitement just with two kinds of flat shapes used repeatedly. I see buildings and subways and signs. It is identifiable to me (although the fact that the page has a title really helps). Is it a map?

I like the concept that a space identified becomes a place. The booklet suggests that each of these spaces/places are subjective and constantly changing, but it doesn't quite state that these prints represent only one person's subjective point of view in one particular time. Who is doing the identifying? The artist or the viewer? Sometimes just the artist, sometimes both. In Ruscha's work I wondered how you would see the pieces if you had never been to those intersections or just never heard of them. What would they evoke? What could they evoke? Do you fill in the gaps with what you do know? Or do you shrug, puzzled? Although the prints were made in 2001, they could have been made at any time at all. Perhaps the textures and colors and reflective materials are important so everyone can enjoy the works at least on an aesthetic level.

Dorothy Napangardi's print Sandhills, published by Crown Point Press, appears only as pleasing lines of connected dots. But the wall text makes it much more intriguing to me. The piece evokes "paths seen from above" that "…ancestral spirits took across sacred lands…" They are dream dots. For Napangardi, they are specific to Australia. For her, they represent a place, for other viewers, perhaps, they point to an abstract space or to a feeling like a musical chord.

The labels, texts, and contexts help us find our way around the art: a map of the maps.

After viewing the prints I sat on a bench in the room and wrote out my thoughts. I was left wondering about maps, about these maps, and how we classify maps. Identifying a space is an interesting way to see them. Could a series of photographs taken on a walk be a map? Can maps be timeless? Will Ruscha's (and other artists') materials eventually give away the time period in which they were made? Does mapping mean a system? Does mapping mean a grid? Is it a space or a place with a finger pointing to it? Are the lines meant to be followed? If you follow the lines, where do you go? Where are you now? Or do they show where you have already been?