WSG Gallery, located in downtown Ann Arbor, Michigan, represents contemporary regional artists and features original fine art including paintings, prints, drawings and sculpture. Special exhibits change every 6 weeks.
The new show at WSG is a body of work Takeshi Takahara has been developing from 2018-present. The work is at once ephemeral and grounded – a solid body of work exploring his chosen media and techniques. Our usual blog post when we change shows is a more direct interview. However, this time, it is a recounting of a conversation between Takahara and myself.
Takahara printing diptych, photos courtesy of John Lilley
Takahara uses both woodcut and intaglio techniques in this body of work. As a matter of fact, those are the methods of printmaking he uses most of the time. Printmaking, that is, hand-pulled prints, differ from what most of the general public thinks of as prints. When folks hear ‘prints’, they think of reproductions, giclees – NOT original pieces. Takahara’s form of printmaking yields ORIGINAL, small edition prints. Each of these prints will differ slightly, according to ink application on the plates, pressure of the press, placement of the paper. The artist makes every one of these pieces by hand.
About 4 years ago, he began experimenting with a form of intaglio (pronounced in-TAL-e-o) that he developed out of the desire to get away from using toxic chemicals used in the traditional, etched copper-plate intaglio technique. He uses a sheet of plywood (the plate) and applies spackle to it, sometimes drawing lines into the spackle while it’s wet, sometimes waiting until it’s dry. In his pieces, the broader areas of color and tone come from printing the woodcut plates (sheets of wood that have been carved into), while the finer lines and details come from printing the intaglio plates.
Keifu, woodblock and intaglio (inspired by floating lotuses)
He explained to me that after he gets the image he wants in the intaglio plate, he then seals it with polyurethane so it will not be porous and soak up all of the ink. He will print an artist’s proof (first print from the plate) to see if he has the image/markings he wants and if he is happy with it, it is good to go in the printmaking process. If he feels like it needs work, he sands down the area he wants to amend, reworks it by making marks and, perhaps, applying more spackle, then drawing into it, re-seals it and prints it again. Takahara says this process is similar to when he used to print copper plates, because he had to sand down areas of the copper plate to get back to a fresh, smooth working surface. But the copper plate required more passes with sanding and burnishing to get a fresh surface.
Printmaking is a fascinating art-making method. As an artist, you go into a project with an idea of what you want to happen, but with printmaking, everything comes out backward – the image you draw into the plate on the right comes out on the left when you print it. It is hard to imagine exactly how it will look until you print the artist’s proof. So even though you go into a project with a plan, you need to allow some space for magic to happen along the way. And each color that the artist wants in the final piece requires a separate pass, if not a separate plate, through the printing press. For example, in Keifu (above) Takahara used 3 separate woodcut plates for the colors alone – the blue, lime and melon colors. Now, when they are layered over each other, they create another tone, which is a bonus. Then, for the dark lines, he used the intaglio plate for his last pass through the press.
Autumn Breeze, woodcut and intaglio
For this show, Takahara printed pieces with the four seasons in mind. So you’ll see colors and marks emulating the personalities of the seasons. Here in Michigan, we have a full-on four season extravaganza. And sometimes, we have all four seasons in one day! The images of these last 2 pieces, Autumn Breeze and Breeze, are great examples of it – the same imagery printed in different colors. Think of the woods you drive past in spring and how it looked a few weeks before, with snow blanketing the branches and dried plant matter. The piece seems much more abstract in the Autumn rendition, but in the monochromatic ‘Breeze’ version, the structure of the landscape becomes much more apparent. It’s not unlike that spring version of the woods, when the leaves are all filling in, covering the bare structure of the land’s contour and the trees.
Breeze, woodcut and intaglio
Takeshi Takahara’s ‘Poems to the Winds’ opens with a reception on June 14, 7-9 pm and runs through July 21, 2019. WSG is open during Ann Arbor’s Art Fairs – come visit us!
Helen Gotlib Sea Ranch Flowers III, detail, woodcut, intaglio, acrylic, gold and paladium leaf and carved birch panel
With each show change at the gallery, I sit down and have a brief interview with the featured artist. Helen Gotlib is the newest co-owner at the gallery, so we’re pleased to present her first show! Her stunning, hand-pulled woodcut and intaglio prints are rich with color and layering of images and mark-making. Some of her newest pieces are 4 x 6 feet and allow the viewer to have an immersive experience of the landscape. The interview follows:
Q. Do you remember your first experience with printmaking? What was your response to the process and possibilities?
HG: I think my first printmaking experience was probably a potato print in first grade or so… but the first time I knew I was hooked on printmaking was later in college. I’d been spending a lot of time doing very detailed pen-and-ink drawings maybe 25 or 30 hours on each piece and when they were finished I’d only have one. Then by chance I ended up in a printmaking class that I knew nothing about and realized I could make multiples of the same type of images using the intaglio or etching techniques. My mind was blown!
Q. How did you come to know you wanted to be an artist?
HG: It’s hard for me to answer that question because I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be an artist.
Q. Your work is deeply connected to nature and our experience with nature as humans, what is it about nature that you would like us to notice as viewers?
HG: Specifically I’m interested in all the connections in nature and its repeating patterns. In my most recent body of work, this is shown by using wood grain to represent grass, time & water.
Q. Some of your newest pieces have many layers of depth, not only because of your use of colors, layering of images and line, but because you have started carving into the surface of the wood panels. Could you speak a bit about how you came to this process and your combination of materials?
HG: My pieces have become more mixed media recently because of my interest in the way that the wood blocks and plates that I’m printing from look. I’ve always been interested in that part of the process but it’s something that you don’t see in the end result of a print on paper, so I wanted to figure out how to tie that in to my finish works. The larger pieces in my current show Secret Beaches are all printed on a very thin Gampi paper, then pasted onto carved Birch panels that have a very similar look to some of the wood blocks I print from. This makes each piece unique in its own way.
Q. How do you interact with nature – what kinds of activities do you like outdoors, and how do you feel your eye as an artist informs what you do outside and how you do it?
HG: I love being outside as much as possible. Swimming is probably my favorite outdoor activity and I’m lucky to live in a state where there are lakes everywhere. I also enjoy hiking in the woods and bike riding.
Being out in nature just makes me feel so calm and relaxed and I think it’s a good way to focus on what’s really important in the world.
The more time I spend out in nature the more small details I notice. Those details end up in many of my pieces. I love walking in a place day after day and seeing all the small changes in the seasons. I’ve always been fascinated in trying to capture the cycle of life in my artwork.
WSG: Tell us about why the show is titled Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy’
VM: The title of this show is a quote from a Ren & Stimpy cartoon episode – really, the only part of an episode I ever watched. The goofy fun of it, combined with the slightly disturbing visual during the singing of the ‘Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy’ song just popped into my head as I was making the work for this show. It made me laugh and accentuated the joy of the making process for me that particular day.
Our lives are composed of good, bad, good and bad and sometimes it happens so fast that it’s hard to recover from moment to moment. We laugh at ‘inappropriate’ times because we find the humor in our situations or we cry at ‘inappropriate’ times, because we can’t quite get it out at the moment it seems appropriate because we have to keep our wits together. – Valerie Mann
Circle Practice and Chevrons, 41 x 43 x 5″. wire, rubber, leather, found objects
Circle Practice and Chevrons, detail
The artist’s statement follows:
All art is made within some kind of context. That’s one of the things we love about art – the stories behind the pieces or the makers. The past 4 months have been a traumatic time for our family. A time which our family will refer to as ‘before and after’ for quite some time. One of the many saving graces has been keeping a healthy sense of humor. When I got back to the studio ‘after’, I faced an unfinished piece that, luckily, had some interesting things going on in it that I might have missed, had I not been in the ‘after’. The entire experience – ‘the during’- was a forced paring down to essentials, a forced economy of function. It was a great starting point for something new.
With this body of work, I continue my pursuit of interesting shadows. I get back to some basics like line, shape, color, value (shadow density), movement, texture. The pieces are joyful and playful. Because making art is joyful and playful! In the making of this work, I allowed myself to make mistakes and experiment, which is harder than you might think.
Domestic Bliss Sketches 2, 10 x 9 x 3″ steel, found objects
The New Normal, wire, rubber, leather, found objects, 43 x 45 x 5″
The New Normal, detail
Pay particular attention to the shadows in the sculptural pieces. For instance, in ‘The New Normal’, I consider the lines I created by crocheting wire, leather, etc. to be three-dimensional drawn lines. They cast different densities of silhouettes against the wall. The shadows become a drawing of their own.
Variations on Domestic Bliss Sketches 5, 16 x 13″, watercolor, collage
I come from a background of both painting and sculpture. I am constantly thinking of how those two worlds connect, cross over and diverge. This new body of work comes closest to melding 2-D and 3-D ideas for me, while still allowing those ideas to maintain individual integrity.
Variations on Domestic Bliss Sketches 2, 12 x 16″, watercolor, collage
Happy, Happy, Joy, Joy is on exhibit through March 16, 2019.
Lineup: Constructed drawing : raspberry cane, powdered graphite, matte medium, pins : 40″w x 17″h x 2″w (frame) : by Larry Cressman
Every January we ring in the new year with new work – new energy at WSG gallery. Our holiday show in December is always great! We feature art and locally made work by painters, weavers, book artists, sculptors, jewelry designers, ceramicists – a vast array of items large and small, perfect for gift-giving to others or oneself! But when January 1 rolls around, we mount a massive effort to change over from previous year to new year and new energy in our gallery.
17+ 17 is a show that we start planning a good 6-10 months ahead of time. Each of us gets excited to choose our guest for the show! Sometimes we bring in familiar names, other times there are artists we haven’t even met – one of us suggests a few names of artists we know and we each research who we might like to bring in. This show brings in some phenomenal new artists to the gallery! Check out the images below and come see the work in person! The reception is Friday, January 4, 5-7pm, but the show runs through February 2.
Standing Still : oil : 36″h x 42″w : by Cayla Tinney
Autumn Light, Norwegian Fjord, no.1 : photograph, pigment ink on rag paper : 20″h x 13.5″w : by John Lilley
Palmera : hand colored silver gelatin print : 11″h x 11″w : by Lisa Steichmann
Pond Circus : oil on canvas : 24″h x 48″w : by Kristin Hermanson
Nightscape : iphone photograph printed on archival paper with pigment inks : 9″h x 8.5″w : 1/10 by Nina Hauser
That One Time in Duluth : acrylic ink and paint on canvas : 40″h x 30″w : by Carolyn Reed Barritt
John Lee Hooker : color tinted photograph : 18″h x 14″w : by Barbara Barefield
Radar Love wood, ink, found objects 10 x 13 x 2″ by Cherna Bednarsh
Still Here No.1 : oil pastel and charcoal : 27″h x 29″w : by Janie Paul
Interrupted Path : bronze : 19″ high : by Norma Penchansky-Glasser
The Road Home: November : oil, cold wax, paint stick, paper on wood panel : 12″h x 16″w : by Laura Seligman
Take Out No.6 : oil on linen : 20″h x 60″w : by Nora Venturelli
Beyond Words: A Celebrations of Book Arts in 2018, curated by Barbara Brown
Barbara Brown curates a biennial book arts exhibit here at WSG gallery. The show she curated in 2016 had fantastic examples of what a book, or ‘book shaped object’ (BSO) might look like and the current show will not disappoint! (Check out her 2016 show in our blog archive to get a sense of progression.) http://wsg-art.com/wsgblog/?cat=200
Field Notes from an Expedition, Piankhy in El Kurru, Sudan, Barbara Brown, Howard White, Maria Phillips, book shaped object, video
Let’s just start off with a piece by Barbara Brown, herself. This is a collaborative piece with her husband, Howard White (a video artist, among other vocations) and Maria Phillips. Barbara’s mind, in relation to construction of objects is fascinating. A few years ago, she started incorporating the laser-cutter into her repertoire of tools. It opened doors to some delicious, precise cuts and shapes she employs beautifully in these tunnel, or theater, books. You can lose yourself in imagination (and time and space) as you peer into the theater shape.
The Life of Tristan Tzara, Alvey Jones, box book
Alvey Jones is another artist whose mind goes into a rabbit hole of creativity with solutions to his book building process. Part miniatures, part books, part paintings, his constructions are exquisite, smart and fun.
The River, Norma Penchansky-Glasser, flag book, cyanotype, found objects, book board
Norma Penchansky-Glasser’s book pieces in the show are inspired by a trip to Idaho and the river she stayed near. It was a roaring body of water that shone silver in the morning light – having a powerful life of its own. Norma is an early riser, so she would sit near the river with her coffee as the world woke up around her.
First Light, Norma Penchansky-Glasser, hanging book made of cyanotype, found objects, book board
And back on that rabbit hole of creativity……Detroit artist Dick Cruger employs a lifetime of designing and fabricating for the auto industry, pulling in his experiences building of building props and sets for theater while he studied at Wayne State and ….VOILA! He has books! Naturally! Using whatever materials and techniques best suit his vision, he creates book pieces that are part sculpture, part toy, and all fascinating. http://www.dickcruger.com/
Autobiography, Dick Cruger, aluminum, found objects
Song of the Misbegotten, Dick Cruger, tire treads and mud flaps
Detroit artist Karen Anne Klein’s piece ‘The Literature of the Birds’ is a sort of deconstructed book, showing us all the pages at once. Klein has developed a special technique in her illustrations of the natural world. She combines watercolor as an underpainting and colored pencil to pull out the details and make her subjects come to life. https://www.kaklein.com/index.php
Literature of the Birds (cabinet), Karen Anne Klein
And we’ve circled around to something a little more, well, book-ish. While Ruth Bardenstein’s structures have a spine, pages and folios, they are more pop-up in their construction. Ruth’s interests and background in mathematics and economics give way to a precision in her construction that is masterful. Her interests are many and her book work provides a medium for exploring where they converge
Interdisciplinary Generative Mapping Process Set, 8 portfolios with slipcover, Ruth Bardenstein
Beyond Words opens with a reception that is free on Friday, October 19 and continues through November 24, 2018. Join us to have your ideas about what a book is, opened up.
Red’s Allure : acrylic on canvas : 36″h x 36″w : by Elizabeth Schwartz
Q: The work you made for your last show at WSG was about creating peaceful meditative spaces on the canvas and you purposefully used red sparingly. You have a passion for the color red – what made you decide to just let go and embrace it?
A. That’s an interesting question. I begin a painting with a few spontaneous brush strokes to activate the canvas. Then I wait, and listen to what the painting wants next. This year, they all seemed to want more red. I hope that doesn’t sound like a non-answer. What I’m trying to say is that my process is intuitive and unplanned. So when red keeps appearing, I just go with it.
Celebrating Scarlett acrylic on canvas 36 x 36″
2. Q: Some of the pieces in this show have a significant suggestion of depth, can you tell me if that was your initial intent with the pieces, or if it was more of a spontaneous development as the pieces took form?
A: At the risk of sounding repetitive, as some of the paintings developed, a flat surface was called for. But usually, due to the many layers of paint that I apply, depth comes about somewhat naturally. It’s pretty easy to accomplish depth with red, since red comes forward in a painting, while other colors – particularly blue – recede. I did work harder to achieve depth in “Out in Crimson Space” because it is all shades of red.
Out in Crimson Space : acrylic on canvas : 54″h x 56w : by Elizabeth Schwartz
3. A. How did you first get in to painting?
Q: I’ve been a left-brained attorney for many years. Around 20 years ago, when an art teacher friend suggested I take his drawing class, commenting “I may not teach you how to draw; but I will teach you how to see”, I was intrigued. Little did I know I would be hooked after the first class. I couldn’t get enough, and continued to take art classes and week-long workshops. I drew and painted during every free moment. During the last 10 years, I’ve been able to devote full time to my art. I feel so fortunate.
Mysterious Relationship : acrylic on canvas : 36″h x 36″w : by Elizabeth Schwartz
4. Q: What was your experience with art in your formative years? Did your family have artists or makers in it?
A: My father and three brothers are all attorneys. Cousins, too, are either doctors or lawyers. My mother was quite an accomplished dancer before marrying my father. There were no visual artist influences in my family, but I did love art class in school. So nobody could be more surprised than I am to find myself where I am today.
In Good Spirits : acrylic on canvas : 40″h x 30″w : by Elizabeth Schwartz
5. Q: Tell us what are some epiphanies you’ve had about color and color relationships over the years you’ve painted.
A: Learning how the placement of one color next to another affects the way each color looks. This concept can cause a single color to appear as two different colors depending on what color is next to it. It is fascinating to me that in this instance, the human eye is incapable of seeing the single color, but can only see the two different colors. Although I don’t utilize this exact principle in my paintings, I do adhere to and apply the principle that spacial relationships of colors are critical to a successful painting.
Middy Potter’s newest show at WSG gallery is a lesson in scale. His work in this show studies several different ‘heavenly bodies’ and shows them in scale to one another. For starters, his ‘Earth’ is a tiny crumb at the end of a sewing needle. All other objects in the show grow in size from there. It’s a humbling experience to walk among the pieces, especially when you notice the ‘Earth’ in comparison. The ‘NGC-346 Nebula’, above has a theatrical presence, with its glowing effect coming from layers of polyester fiber-fill over an armature, the white color almost lighting the purple form from within. A touch of glitter adds a little to the glowing effect.
The circular wires are a nice representation of those X-ray blasts.
Veil Nebula : copper, polyester, mixed media : 56″ h : by Middy Potter
‘Veil Nebula’, above, has a presence that is hard to capture in a photograph. For that matter, all of Potter’s pieces do. They are suspended from above and move with the ambient airflow of the gallery. The pieces cast dynamic shadows and they are in constant flux, much like the stars above.
‘Way Out There – In Space’ is on exhibit through September 1.
Francesc Burgos’ newest show opened this week at the gallery. Each of us at WSG gallery has the opportunity to have a solo show about every 2 years. It’s always interesting to see the physical record of an artist’s time. Burgos’ work is elegant and thoughtful, with lovely craftsmanship. I asked him a few questions about his process, ideas and intent. The interview follows:
Q. Your background as an architect certainly builds upon a great skill of communicating spatial ideas through 2-D drawings. I think, often, art appreciators forget that 3-D artists possess those drawing/communication skills. You have ventured into creating 2-D work to show alongside your sculptural work in this show. Please tell me a little bit about this development.
A. Most of my artistic work and my artistic education, since childhood, has been in 3d: ceramic sculpture, architecture, mask making, jewelry, product design… and it’s representation in 2d: sketching, drafting… I have been sketching regularly, if not daily, as far back as I can remember and consider myself fluent in rendering 3d ideas in 2d.
And yet, the flip side of the coin has been an awkwardness about color; color has often intimidated me. During 2017, on the move and unable to work in clay, I focused on photography, a longstanding interest, and began also to play around with a digital tablet, first in black and white drawings and two-color graphics, and then in full color digital “paintings”. I find the digital tablet to be a fabulous tool, canvas, brushes and paint all in one, not to mention that the electronic nature of it, allows one to paint not only with color but also with light, an asset that paper or canvas just can’t match.
I have been teaching myself to paint with a tablet, first by imitating earlier pioneers of the medium, and lately by reinterpreting in my own way color images that I find attractive, or challenging. The software that I use, Procreate, has its own possibilities and limitations, and I am slowly discovering them and learning to exploit the first and circumvent the second. This current 2d work is still, very much, exploratory.
Q. Continuing with thinking about the 2-D pieces…the surfaces of the pieces, even though they are matte finishes on paper, come to have an airy, spatial feel….and by that, I mean, they seem to be a vapor that the viewer could almost enter. Do you feel that your 3-D work has informed this new 2-D work, and, if so, could you expand on that?
A: I am glad to read that these works have for you “a spatial, airy feeling… a vapor that the viewer could almost enter”, as you write. Building up a digital painting on the tablet with multiple separate layers of color seems, to me, to create an illusion of depth. If you perceived that as well then, perhaps, it is not my personal illusion but one that can be shared with the viewer. Good news.
Q. When I look at your clay sculptures, I could easily see the forms as monumental sculptures – think Richard Serra, but with more airflow! These pieces would translate beautifully to pieces in steel, aluminum, bronze. Have you ever made large-scale pieces like that?
A. My sculptural work in ceramics is informed by many personal interests, from geometry to music (which are related), and prominent among them is architecture, architecture as a humanist endeavor. Architecture not only creates or envisions objects, buildings, but also, and equally, defines the space between buildings, the public space, while giving form to the interior spaces that we inhabit; the whole spectrum of it constituting what has been called the poetics of space, a fluid continuum that defines our being in the physical world. Often, while working out the details of a particular sculpture I will imagine myself occupying its interior, like a pea inside its pod, or a bird in its nest, enveloped by the tree… Surely this imagination results in some forms having a “monumental” feel about them, and sometimes I do see my sculptures as maquettes or models of much larger works. Alas, perhaps one day…