Category Archives: The Art World

John Gall and twelve other NC artists exhibit drawings at the NCMA

Visual Arts Review

THROUGH 3/8: Line, Touch, Trace
At the NCMA, in the East Building
by K. Porter Aichele
September 5, 2014 – Raleigh, NC:

John Gall, The Babel Makers, 2003
ink and ink washes on paper, 40 x 32 inches.
Reproduced with permission of the artist.

North Carolina Museum of Art: EXHIBITION: Line, Touch, Trace 

The thirteen artists featured in Line, Touch, Trace live and work in North Carolina. That is all they have in common, yet their drawings make for a satisfyingly coherent and visually appealing exhibition. Curated by Edie Carpenter, Director of Curatorial and Artistic Programs at GreenHill in Greensboro, NC, in consultation with Jennifer Dasal, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the North Carolina Museum of ArtLine, Touch, Trace is the first drawing exhibition presented in the museum’s North Carolina Gallery. The gallery is located just beyond the information desk at the entrance to the East Building.

In a curatorial statement beneath snazzy signage announcing the exhibition title, Carpenter introduces the hand-drawn line, the smudged touch of an artist’s fingers, and traced marks as visible expressions of imaginative thought. She expands on her succinct introduction to the exhibition in an interview published in the Fall, 2014, edition of the North Carolina Museum of Art’sPreview. There she notes that the immediacy of drawing gives the viewer privileged access to the creative process. Brief commentaries on each artist’s work are contained in wall texts unobtrusively interspersed throughout the exhibition. These reflections mercifully avoid didactic explanations in favor of thoughtful insights into relationships between medium and content. A combination of graphite, watercolor, and encaustic on panel viscerally conveys what Carpenter calls the “epidermal quality” of Tamie Beldue’s Float (2013). In Hospiceand Move, both from 2012, Kiki Farish adds a layer of textured pencil strokes over partially erased words and images to build up surfaces that evoke the “fluctuating nature of memory.”

Materials used in the thirty-two drawings on display are as diverse as the artists themselves, ranging from age-old traditional to up-to-the-minute contemporary. John Hill Jr.’s droll fantasies are rendered in ink applied in dots and small squares to parody the four-color printing process of comic books; Matthew Micca’s topographic abstractions are color fields stained with ballpoint pens (Fig. 1); and Lori Esposito’s improbably symmetric plant forms hover on double-sided Mylar supports. With respect to style, the works represent an expansive concept of drawing that embraces Selena Beaudry’s loose, gestural Color Pencil Tracing #2 (2013) as well as the exquisitely wrought detail of the serpents in Ippy Patterson’s Escape from Eden (2003). In the many densely detailed drawings on display, obsessive repetition produces a wide variety of effects, among them the feathery, vibrant red fronds that couch the figures in Kreh Mellick’s Three Girls (2013) and the delicate, lacy transparency of the scrim that hangs on the surface of Kenn Kotara’s Making My Way(2011).

Some of the subjects are drawn from sources as familiar as the Bible, while others are inscrutably personal. Joyce’s Calendar (1995) is one of hundreds of works in which Viennese-born Fritz Janschka examines his own penchant for graphic inventions through the filter of James Joyce’s literary imagination. (I know this because I have been married to him for 38 years.) Jason Watsonshows a predilection for popular American culture rather than highbrow Irish literature, assembling odd assortments of found objects into ensembles animated by strong tonal contrasts. Whether literary in inspiration or based on direct observation of visible reality, most of the drawings are original interpretations of venerable art-historical traditions. Patterson’s Escape from Eden unfolds in a hybridized format that reorients the Japanese handscroll and rethinks illustrated books in the western tradition. Mellick’s small drawings update the English Arts and Crafts approach to book illustration, whereas Kotara quite literally ramps up the size and scale of botanical illustrations. In hisCategory Two (2010) minuscule half-circles proliferate into aggregates of botanical motifs that at first glance resemble strings or spirals of algae seen under a microscope and on closer scrutiny the intricate floral designs in Japanese pattern books.

Other artists in the exhibit ion tap into a rich history of architectural drawings. Isaac Payne and John Gall are as different as Giovanni Battista Piranesi and M. C. Escher, two of their predecessors in this regard. Payne integrates recognizable figures in spaces that are at once illusionistic and abstract – an effect created by framing images of three-dimensional urban structures with collaged paper. Since Payne’s settings consciously reference museum architecture, it is entirely fitting that The Steps (2010) is hung to mirror the perspective of visitors descending the central staircase of the East Building, where the exhibition is mounted. In contrast to the disquieting disconnect between the figures and their monumental setting in Payne’s Billboard (2013), the quirky, pot-bellied figures in John Gall’sThe Babel Makers (2003, Fig. 2) are humorously displaced in a tower of architectural facades, neatly arranged in chronological order.

To their credit, Carpenter and the North Carolina Museum of Art designers made the most of the awkward, if prominent, space of the gallery designated since 2010 to work by North Carolina artists. They installed the exhibition in such a way that diagonal walls of different lengths are utilized to the artists’ advantage. Their groupings give space to the large works that need it and a more intimate viewing space to clusters of smaller works. In one instance Carpenter and her collaborators even capitalized on the proximity of a sculpture in the museum’s permanent collection, juxtaposing three of Beldue’s acrobatic silhouettes to the shadow cast by Bob Trotman’s suspended Vertigo (2010).

The public opening was billed as a “meet the artists” event, and all were in attendance. Having traveled from across the state, they might well have expected a modest reception, but there was none. Line, Touch, Trace is on view until March 8, 2015, so for those who missed the opening, there is ample time to plan a visit. GreenHill is sponsoring a road trip on Saturday, October 4th, with talks by participating artists and a tour of the exhibition followed by lunch at Iris, the museum’s restaurant; for details see GreenHill’s website. Any additional programming will be posted on the North Carolina Museum of Art’s website.


Understanding the Fine Print (January/February 2011)

Art Smart 
January / February 2011

By Adam Cave

Here at the beginning of a new century, one of the most important art forms of the last millennium is also one of the most misunderstood. Printmaking, despite its long history, confuses modern collectors more than any other medium. The complexity and variety of fine art printing techniques, combined with the advances in reproduction and commercial printing, have all contributed to this confusion. However, with some clear explanations and a little history, art collectors should have the tools to understand the prints that they see and more fully appreciate this fascinating art form.

Confusion starts with the word “print”

The word “print” these days can refer to anything printed in any manner; however, most fine art printmakers make works defined as original prints. The term “original” indicates that the artwork was conceived, from the start, to be a print. It is not a reproduction of a previously created artwork such as a painting. “Original” also reflects the fact that hand-made prints, although often multiples of a single image, are made one at a time, and no two are exactly the same. By contrast, reproduction prints are mechanically made copies in which a scan or photograph of any type of completed artwork is used by computers and commercial printing presses to produce facsimiles. Examples include limited-edition gicl�es, offset lithographs and posters.

Printing dates back over 1000 years to early Asian block prints, but fine art printmaking as we know it did not fully develop until the invention of the printing press in 1440. The press allowed artists to spend more time refining images and printing them with much greater consistency. Woodcuts and engravings by Albrecht Durer in the 16th century were some of the first works to demonstrate printmaking’s potential. In the 17th century, Rembrandt became as famous for his emotionally charged etchings as his paintings. This period also saw the growth of a new, educated middle class that wanted to collect art. Only royalty and the church could afford large paintings, but prints, by the very same artists, were affordable and highly collected. Increasingly, many now-famous artists subsidized their careers with print sales; Goya (18th century); Manet and Degas (19th century); Picasso, Dali, Wood, Benton, Hopper and Warhol (20th century). The good news for collectors is that while paintings by these artists are all but priceless, their original prints (and those of countless others) are far more affordable and are actively collected and enjoyed.

What is an “original print”

An original print is most often an image created with ink on paper where the ink has been transferred to the paper from another surface instead of drawn directly by hand. An artist inscribes marks on a primary surface called a matrix (a metal plate for example). These marks hold ink and, with pressure, can transfer, or “print” that ink onto a piece of paper. The resulting print is a mirror image of the matrix. Most of us have done rudimentary printmaking when we made potato stamps in elementary school. Stamping, woodblock printing, linoleum block printing, and wood engraving are examples of one of the three major categories of printmaking: relief printing. To make a relief print, an artist uses knives and chisels to carve patterns into a flat, smooth surface such as a block of wood. Ink is rolled on the uncarved surface and then paper is pressed down on the block with enough pressure to transfer the ink to the paper. Since no ink touched the carved out areas (below the surface) they form the negative space in the image and appear white in the resulting print.

Artists who prefer their carved marks to print black instead of white choose intaglio printmaking, which includes engraving, dry point, mezzotint, and etching. In the first three techniques the artist uses sharp tools to scratch directly into a metal plate, usually copper or zinc. Ink is rolled on the plate and pushed into all the scratched grooves below the plate surface. The smooth surface of the plate is subsequently wiped clean leaving ink only in the grooves. The artist covers the plate with a dampened sheet of paper and puts both under a press, the pressure of which pushes the ink out of the grooves and onto the paper to create the print.

Since scratching delicate marks directly into metal is difficult, etching was developed, and is the most widely practiced intaglio technique. In etching, the metal plate is first covered with a thin layer of clay-like substance called a ground. With a stylus, the artist can easily and fluidly draw in the ground, exposing the underlying metal with each mark. The plate is then put into a bath of acid that etches grooves into the exposed areas of the metal. After taking the plate out of the acid bath, the ground is removed, and the plate is inked, wiped and printed using the same methods of the other intaglio processes.

The third type of original printmaking is planographic and includes lithography and silkscreen printing. Planographic techniques create images on the surface of a matrix without any carving or etching. Lithography is based on the principle that oil and water don’t mix. The matrix is traditionally smooth limestone on which the artist draws with a greasy crayon. These marks are then chemically treated to attract oil and repel water. The stone is dampened with water and when ink is rolled on the surface it only sticks to the treated areas. The inked stone is covered with a sheet of paper and sent through a printing press to print the image.

In silkscreen printing, an invention in the early 20th century, the artist designs a stencil that is glued down on a fine screen. The screen is laid over a piece of paper and ink is forced through it. Since the ink can only get through the areas not covered by the stencil, the resulting image corresponds to the stencil design.

Proofs and editions

There are far too many types of original printmaking to mention in this article. However, almost all techniques fall under relief, intaglio or planographic printmaking and most allow for the repeated printing of an image multiple times. The resulting set of images is called an edition and each individual piece is a proof. Although no two hand- made prints are ever exactly the same, great consistency between the proofs in an edition is a sign of a printmaker’s skill. Some artists have no interest in creating editions at all and instead make singular prints called monotypes that cannot be repeated. Modern printmakers who do create editions will pencil sign and number each piece so that collectors know how many have been made.

Printmaking today does seem to be enjoying a renaissance, and collectors who understand the medium are in for an exciting time. Artists have more access than ever to the tools they need and they are creating deeply personal works in an endless variety of styles and techniques. Just as in earlier centuries, high quality printmaking by well-known artists continues to be affordable and can be a very wise investment. Collect today’s contemporary printmakers and you may well be buying tomorrow’s Rembrandts.

An Artist’s Double Life (April 2008)

The State of Things
April 22, 2008

Interview with Frank Stasio

Matt Lively is a painter from Richmond. His work is iconic and whimsical, full of things like bumblebees riding bicycles and brightly colored dresses swaying in the breeze.Then there’s Matthew Lively. He’s also a painter, but his work is darker, cynical and slightly creepy. But this isn’t a segment about two artists with eerily similar names. Matt and Matthew occupy the same person… and the same mind. Although some might think this signals some sort of personality disorder, Matt disagrees–this is just his way of making a living. Matt (and Matthew’s) work is on display at Adam Cave Fine Art in Raleigh until April 29th.