Archive for the Printmaking Category

Next Generation Post Minimalism—Ranjani Shettar at SFMOMA

Posted in Bay Area Art Scene, Contemporary Art, Female Artists, Fiber Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking, Sculpture with tags , , , , , , on April 16, 2009 by Liz Hager



Ranjani Shettar, Sing
, 2008-9, steel, muslin, kasimi, tamarind kernel
powder paste, shellac, and lacquer, dimensions variable. (Photo ©

Though consisting of only six works, Ranjani
Shettar’s current exhibition of recent works at SFMoMA shows off
the depth and range of her capabilities. The sculptural
installations and prints on display demonstrate her considerable
technical agility. But it’s her wondrous imagination with its
complex references to art and the world around her that really
impresses. These references are often subtle to the point of
abstruseness. Luckily, though, initial enjoyment of the
pieces doesn’t require a knowledge or understanding of all the
references. The lacy Sing Along consists of
half a dozen or so wrapped wire pieces, all of which protrude from
the gallery walls or hang from the ceiling. Hanging is a Shettar
conceit. In Just a bit more (2005), the
artist used bee’s wax and thread dipped in tea to express the
beauty in humble materials; in Sun-sneezers blow light
(2007-8) she first used the materials in Sing
Along to contrast the fragility of bubble forms with the strength
of the underlying armature. Shettar has remarked previously that
the purpose of hanging a work is to engage gravity in its ultimate
shape (downward tension dictates). Still, in regard to
inspiration for hanging sculpture, one can’t help thinking of Calder‘s
wire figures. The Sing Along grouping beckons
viewers into its space; it creates an active environment with the
gallery room, which promotes viewer exploration (rather than
passive gazing) of the work. In this and other regards, Shettar
carries on in the tradition of many post-minimalist artists, which
though not linked together tightly enough to form a movement, have
concerned themselves with incorporating the handmade with the
repetitive, mechanicalness of traditional Minimalist work. Among
those post-minimalist practices which Shettar adheres to are the
use of every day objects (Tom
), a focus on the sheer tactile beauty of an
object (Anish
), as well construction of abstract forms through
the hand-made “touch” (Eva
, Martin
). Shettar typically mixes industrial materials
with traditional craft techniques, although she downplays too much
meaning of the latter in her work. In an interview last year
with John
, she remarked: ” I am constantly observing
materials around me and looking at possibilities. For me my
materials do not have to always come from an art supply store, they
could be from anywhere. I often look at craft material and also use
craft techniques as they are generations old and refined. I use
materials that can convey and add to my idea. . . Every
material has uses and associations that are particular to each one
of them and so they bring in their own meaning into works.” In the
case of Sing Along, a wire armature is wrapped
with muslin coated in tamarind paste, a glue used both in textile
printing in India and in painting wood by the toymakers of Kinnala.
Shettar made a special pilgrimage to this village to learn the
technique. The textile element is subtle; without a close look at
the piece, the pieces might be mistaken for iron or patina bronze.
Sing Along takes its inspiration from the
koel, the long-tailed cuckoo common in SE Asia and Australia,
which, no doubt because of its distinctive call, was at one time a
popular Indian cagebird. The koel is referred to as a “brood
parasite,” because the female usually lays her single egg in the
nests of other birds, sometimes removing existing host eggs
beforehand. The host bird raises the fledging along with her
chicks, apparently no one ever the wiser. Other than the
black finish of the sculpture, which mimics the male bird’s coat,
there is nothing that overtly references this particular bird.
Armed with deeper knowledge, one wonders what about the bird
specifically inspired Shettar—was it the female’s speckled coat,
its parasitic nature, the call? No matter, birds generally
are in evidence throughout the piece. Once the source of the title
is clear, feather shapes and spread wings abound.


Ranjani Shettar, Sing
(detail). (Photo © author.)

Truth be
told, however, this viewer walked away from Sing
obliviously satisfied in the belief that the
installation referenced salmon swimming arduously through glinting
rushing streams toward their spawning grounds. Therein lies the
clever beauty of Shettar’s pieces; no matter what your frame of
reference, they still speak to you. Note: Don’t miss Shettar’s
Me, no, not me, buy me, wear me, have me, me, no, not
piece on SFMoMA’s new rooftop garden.
Wider Connections More Ranjani
Holland Carter—Art
in Review: Ranjani Shettar
Shettar at the Museum
of Modern Art, Dallas

David Hockney & the Chief Muse of the Brothers Grimm

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 11, 2009 by Liz Hager


David Hockney, Catherina Dorothea Viehmann (frontispiece of Six Fairy Tales), 1969 etching/aquatint.

In 1970 David Hockney and Petersburg Press released Six Fairy Tales, a compilation of 39 etchings and the texts of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm’s fairy tales, including

Although there have been many subsequent translations and adaptations of the Brothers Grimm’s original 1812 volume, Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales), the texts in Hockney’s edition were re-translated from the (1962?) version released by  Manesse Verlag in Zürich. 

Hockney produced the portfolio in four separate editions of 100 with 15 artist’s proofs; the artist drew the images directly on copper plates, which were pulled at Petersburg Press.  The folios were hand sewn and bound into a blue leather slipcase. Additionally, each edition contained a discrete set of six etchings culled from the 39 illustratons, which were slipped loose into a pocket in the book’s slipcase. The artist also produced a separate portfolio (one edition of 100), in which each tale and its accompanying renderings where folded concertina-style and individually signed and numbered by the artist.

Sometime later, perhaps in the mid-70s, a trade edition of the book was released, both in full and miniature size. Although mass-produced,  the latter version possesses a precious, magical quality that is in in keeping with the spirit of the Medieval Volk-inspired tales. It’s a unique addition to any collection of illustrated children’s books.


(Left) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in an Egg, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint. (Right) David Hockney, Boy Hidden in a Fish, 1969.

What inspired Hockney about The Brothers’ Grimm?  As Karen Armstrong points out in A Short History of Myth, a central purpose of myth is to show us “how to behave.” The Grimm tales are no exception. Chock-full of romance and rescue, familial conflict and truly gruesome violence, the tales are meant as manuals of manners, guides “out of the woods.”



(Left) David Hockney, The Cook, 1969, etching/aquatint.. (Right) David Hokcney, The Pot Boiling, 1969, etching/aquatint.

Peter Webb, author of Portrait of David Hockney, illuminates Hockney’s motivation:

David Hockney had always loved Grimm’s Fairy Tales and had read all 220 of them. He also admired earlier illustrations to them by Arthur Rackham and Edmund Dulac. In 1969 he decided to make his own images. He especially enjoyed the elements of magic in the tales, and his images focus on his imaginative response to the descriptions in the text rather than attempting to concentrate on the most important events in the narrative. They are therefore more than simply illustrations: they stand on their own as images, independent of the stories.

Unlike other illustrator’s renderings, which impart a beauteous overtone to the stories, through his own quirky rendering of characters and details, Hockney has managed to expertly capture the dark magic mood of the tales. Further, as The Cook and The Pot Boiling from “Fundevogel” brilliantly illustrate, the gruesome details need not always be depicted for us to grasp the sinister undertones of the story.  The artist’s depiction of the Enchantress in “Rapunzel” as an androgynous crone sends shivers up the spine. 



 (Left) David Hockney, The Enchantress in Her Garden, 1969, etching/aquatint. (Right) David Hockney, The Enchantress with Baby Rapunzel, 1969, etching/aquatint/drypoint.

And what of Catherina Dorothea Viehmann, Hockney’s frontispiece portrait?  Few readers know that in the height of the Romantic Era the Grimms did not travel the German countryside transcribing stories from simple peasants, but relied on a small network of bourgeois female friends and acquaintances to retell the stories they had heard in various homes. As scholars, the Grimms put their own name on the books they edited, keeping the identity of their storytellers largely secret. In this way, on the eve of German patriotic rebirth after years of occupation by Napoleon’s government, the Grimms were able to maintain the conceit of a vast repository of German Volkskultur.

In the best oral tradition, women recited folk tales to each other to ward off the boredom of household chores and to instruct younger women on the proper way for women to behave. Over half of the 210 stories in the first edition were contributed by women. Family friend Marie Hassenpflug was responsible for “Sleeping Beauty” and “Red Riding Hood;” neighbor Dorchen Wild for “Rumpelstilzchen,” “The Six Swans” and “Frau Holle” (incidentally one of the Grimms’ most popular stories in Germany today). 

Ludwig Emil Grimm, Dorothea Viehmann, charcoal on paper, ca. 1814.

In the spring of 1813 the Brothers met Dorothea Viehmann, an impoverished widow, who by then would have been in her late 50s. The daughter of an innkeeper, Dorothea may have picked up stories as a girl from her mother and even the guests and tradespeople of her father’s inn. Viehmann possessed a photographic memory when it came to recounting the details of her stories; apparently she could stop mid-sentence and retrace a previous section word for word as she had already told it.  Wilhelm confessed: “She comes to visit at least once a week and unleashes (her stories). We take turns transcribing. . . and by now have (made) such lovely progress that we could probably deliver a second volume.” (letter from Wilhelm to his brother Ferdinand—translated by Valerie Paradiz, Clever Maids, pp. 151-152).

In all Dorothea Viehmann contributed over 40 stories, to the Grimms’ second volume,  including “Cinderella,” “The Goose Maid” and “The Devil with Three Golden Hairs.” Ironically, Viehmann’s heritage was French Huguenot, so the likely origin of her stories was not Germany at all. 

The Grimm family included two other brothers. Ludwig Emil became an artist, who among other endeavors illustrated his brothers’ fairy tale books. In the 1819 edition of Children’s and Household Fairy Tales, his portrait of Dorothea Viehmann appeared as the frontispiece, although one wonders with what attribution. When David Hockney re-instated Viehmann to her position as Chief Muse for the Brothers Grimm, he revealed a part of the Grimms’ own secret history. 

Wider Connections

David Hockney

Culturistas on David Hockney

The Annotated Brothers Grimm—Essays by A.S. Byatt; 150 illustrations by artists including George Cruikshank, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham.

Bruno Bettelheim—The Uses of Enchantment

Valerie Paridiz—Clever Maids: The Secret History of The Grimm Fairy Tales 

Brothers Grimm background

Manesse Codex (translated and transcribed by Jacob Grimm)

An Illicit Affair in Paris: Utamaro at the Bibliothèque National

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking with tags , , , , , , , , on January 8, 2009 by Liz Hager

Guest contributor Gina Collia-Suzuki reports from Paris on one of Utamaro’s most famous prints. It’s just one of hundreds by many Japanese printmakers on view as part of the exhibit Estampes Japonaises: Images d’un Monde Éphémère at the Bibliothèque National de France until February 15, 2009.  


Kitagawa Utamaro, Kamiya Jihei and Kinokuniya Koharu, from the series Jitsu kurabe iro no minakami (An Array of Passionate Lovers) , published by  Nishimuraya, c. 1798-9 (© Bibliothèque National de France)

The Estampes Japonaises: Images d’un Monde Éphémère focuses on ukiyo-e (“floating world”) genre of prints, so named for their depiction of the scenes of everyday life in Japan and the impact of the rising merchant class on Japanese society.  These woodcuts were generally produced during the Edo (1603-1867) and later Meiji (1867-1912) periods. Beginning in the 1870s the Western world was introduced to these prints, and artists, most notably the French Impressionists, began to incorporate their distinctive stylistic characteristics into their own paintings.  

Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) produced a number of sets of prints depicting ill-fated lovers, shown in both half-length and full-length, as well as in different poses. None surpasses the monumental series bearing the title Jitsu kurabe iro no minakami (An Array of Passionate Lovers), which is comprised of 21 known designs.

The most well-known print in this set portrays two lovers, Kamiya Jihei and Kinokuniya Koharu.  Created during the Edo period, it is often referred to as La Sortie (The Departure), because it depicts the michiyukispecifically, the moment in the lovers’ journey when they are preparing to leave and make their way to Daichô-ji Temple, where they will end their lives together. Under cover of night (as suggested by the gray background) Jihei is shown raising the walls of the collapsed paper lantern he holds. His white head covering disguises his appearance, and provides a masculine contrast to the black veil of his lover Koharu. She stands protectively over his shoulder, tenderly shielding the candle from the wind. Utamaro depicts the two in this pose of intimate communion, foreshadowing their fate.  The restricted color scheme also emphasizes the union of the two lovers. 

The dramatizations of the story of Koharu and her lover Jihei were based on real-life events which took place in 1720, when Kamiya Jihei—a 28-year-old married paper merchant with two children, from the Temman district of Osaka—and Koharu—a 19-year-old prostitute belonging to the Kinokuniya brothel—committed suicide together at the Daichô-ji Temple in Amijima. The story was adapted for both the puppet and Kabuki theatre, with the most famous version being Shinjû ten no Amijima (Double Suicide at Amijima), written by the well-renowned playwright Chikamatsu Monzaemon (1653-1725) for the Bunraku theatre and staged for the first time in Osaka in the December of 1720. 

In 18th-century Japan marriage was primarily a convenience. Taking a wife was more akin to engaging a housekeeper and nursemaid than choosing a lover and lifetime companion. Tales in which passionate romantic love endured against all odds were incredibly popular among the Edo townspeople, because they offered a glimpse of an intense and intimate relationship that many ordinary Japanese men and women could not hope to experience.

These tales of scandalously illicit affairs, double suicides, and passionate encounters between lovers, who risked all to be together, thoroughly captured the imagination of Edo’s inhabitants. Dramatic tales of ill-fated lovers, which invariably ended badly, were popular in literature, in prints, in songs, and on the stage. The couples portrayed in these tales represented the ideal of romantic love and unwavering devotion.

The exhibit includes many other Japanese printmakers from the , including examples from perhaps the best-known, Hokusai and Hiroshige.

Below left—Suzuki Harunobu, Beauty Sailing into the Void from the Balcony of the Kiyomizu Temple, 1765, calendar print; Below right—Kitagawa Utamaro, Furtive Glance, 1799-1800, woodcut (all (© Bibliothèque National de France).


Below—Katsushika Hokusai, Great Wave Off Kanagawa, from the series Thirty-Siz Views of Mt. Fuji, 1829-1833, woodcut; Bottom—Ando Hiroshige, Big Fish and Abalones, 1832, woodcut  (all © Bibliothèque National de France).



About Venetian Red guest contributor

Gina Collia-Suzuki is a writer and editor, who lives on the southwest coast of England. While a student at Birmingham Institute of Art & Design, she began collecting the woodblock prints of Kitagawa Utamaro. Since then she has devoted herself to the study of the artist’s work, focusing specifically on his illustrated books and broadsheets. She is the author of Utamaro Revealed: A Guide to Subjects, Themes, and Motifs and The Wonderful Demise of Benjamin Arnold Guppy. Collia-Suzuki’s blog can be found at Floating Along.

Venetian Red in Berlin: To the Expressionists’ House We Go

Posted in Fine & Decorative Arts, Liz Hager, Printmaking, Travel with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 28, 2008 by Liz Hager


Friz Bleyl, Winter, 1905
Woodcut, 17 x 9.9 cms
(Brücke Museum, Berlin)

At the end of a tranquil cul-de-sac on the woodsy fringe of Berlin’s suburban Dahlem district sits Das Brücke Museum, an unassuming, low-slung modernist structure, in which much of the work of the German Expressionists resides. The Museum boasts a collection of more than 400 paintings and sculptures, as well as thousands of prints.  One of the benefits of having a body of work this large and varied under one roof is the clarity of perspective it affords relative to the influence of German Expressionists on later movements, particularly the American Abstract Expressionists. What a wonderful paradox that a museum that houses once-radical art is situated in this rather conventional location; in a world in which most museums of modern art are sited in downtown locations, this suburban location is actually anti-conventional.

The first part of the 20th century was characterized by the ascendency of German-speaking artists.  After centuries of French domination of the art world, members of the Wiener Secession, Das Brücke, and later Der Blaue Reiter stepped into the spotlight, rebelling against Impressionism and pushing artistic vocabulary toward the abstract.  Because the founders of Das Brücke—Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl—were studying at the technical university in Dresden,  the group originally took their aesthetic cues from the Dresden-based expression of the Jugendstil (German Art Nouveau), which staked its artistic legacy on highly-stylized curvilinear forms, mostly floral in origin.

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Parterre, Akrobatin, und Clown (Parterre, Acrobat, and Clown), 1909
(Städel Museum, Frankfort)

The Brücke ultimately rejected the traditional notion that lines, objects, and color were tools in the service of the artist’s representation of “reality,” believing instead that these were elements in their own right. For them, objects symbolized ideas and conveyed moods. Not just color, but vigorous line work was critical to the expression of mood. The group’s use of then-unconventional themes—nature-worship, religious ecstasy, nudity as a symbol of the freedom of the soul, exotic and primitive art—enhanced their reputation as avant-garde artists. Nature was a subject the group often tackled, but primarily as a vehicle to express an inner emotion. In their hands, reality was transformed and reduced to its unembellished essential; color became an abstraction, detached from traditional objects and associations.

All of these elements are well-illustrated in Kirchner’s lithograph above: the acrobat and clown have been reduced to a few essential and complementary curvilinear lines; and the flattened red and yellow colors, as well as the poses and accoutrements, evoke an exotic, and exciting, locale.

Albrecht Dürer, St. Anthony, 1519,
copper etching

While best known by the general public for their paintings, the Brücke artists used the woodcut and lithography media extensively. Perhaps their technical training pushed them naturally in this direction, for the print medium certainly allowed them to maintain a close relationship between art and craft in the tradition of the Jugendstil. Interestingly, a large portion of Brücke woodcuts is devoted to advertising the group—cards, posters, and catalogues—belying this connection to the technical, or graphic, arts. The e German Renaissance masters Lucas Cranach, Matthias Grünewald, and Albrecht Dürer were hugely influential on the Brücke and the group was deliberate in its attempt to revive this venerable German tradition.

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Bäume im Winter (Trees in Winter), 1905
Woodcut, 11.8×16 cms
(Brücke Museum, Berlin)

Like the Impressionists, the Brücke members were smitten by Japanese woodcuts—the Japanese emphasis on line and flat color, as well as oblique compositional angles in their work fit in naturally with their aesthetic beliefs. Nowhere is the the Japanese influence more acutely demonstrated in the collection it seems than in Schmidt-Rottluff’s woodcut above. He has pared down the scene to such an extreme that all color and embellishment has been banished. What remains is the essence of winter, brilliantly evocative in its simplicity.

Wider Connections

Spaightwood Galleries
Charles Harrison et al. —Primitivism, Cubism, Abstraction

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