Friday, September 11, 2015

New Woodcut, New Camera

Turkey Vulture and Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Two Block Woodcut, first proof by Ken Januski.

Well after all my threats of returning to prints I've finally done so. The 6x8 inch woodcut above is in its earliest stages. I based the side of the block that will print black on my recent field sketch of a Turkey Vulture and Ruby-throated Hummingbird seen along the Manayunk Canal as well as another hummingbird seen the same day in our backyard. The other side of the block I'm printing in multiple colors, mainly as abstract shapes.

As usual I can't say where this will go. Though there are plenty of printmakers with a lot of plans as to how they will proceed I rarely have much of a plan. I trust my improvisatory skills. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't.  This also a reduction woodcut in the sense that each side will be treated that way. From the beginning I liked the idea of blue and white stripes. Who knows why or where it will lead.

I think it's very difficult to do wildlife art and not want to make it realistic. Part of this is due I think to a very simple reason: artists find the wildlife attractive, in some way or another, and want to portray it. I understand this. But there are two problems here I think, at least from my viewpoint. First it is so easy to mistakenly think that photographs of wildlife are real. But they're not. Photos capture frozen instants, instants that we as humans never experience. We always see things in a living continuum not a frozen instant. So I much prefer 19th century realistic wildlife painters to most current ones. They seem less beholden and/or enthralled to photography. The other problem I think is one of knowledge. If you know a lot about your subject there's often a reluctance to not show that, to fear that someone else will look at it and complain about a missing tail feather in an eagle. I think it should be obvious to anyone why this type of thing limits the art that's possible.

A number of years ago the Wall Street Journal ran a front page article on this type of art and the art collectors it inspires. It also mentioned what sticklers they often are about detail. If I remember correctly one complaint revolved around a button on a Confederate uniform. If that's what collectors want and artists feel the need to please them in order to make a living I understand that. In some way it's seem a healthy antidote to 200 years of the Romantic artist, working with himself as the only arbiter of taste. Nonetheless it leads to a very impoverished art. Imagine if music had such constraints on it. If so the weekly Lawrence Welk show, still on after all these years, might be the most revolutionary music around.

In any case this is just a long winded way of saying that I always shy away from too much realism. I see and value it in others and in field sketches. I do really like to know and understand the subjects I paint. But I'm much more fearful of the deadliness that can come about from both high finish painting and highly 'realistic' art. Both take away for me at least from art that is exciting and rewarding. So as you can see the new print at top does not have any problems with straying to close to realism. But it does give an artistic and expressive excitement that I hope I can develop in this print. As usual though with improvisation it's easy to fall flat on your face.

Female Black and White Warbler at Manayunk Canal. Photo by Ken Januski.

Last weekend my very old Panasonic Lumix FZ28 dies, after 7-8 years of great service. I never, ever care about getting artistic or well-composed photos. I use the camera for reference purposes, so that I can see perhaps the color of the feet on a Blackburnian Warbler, or the length of the primary projection on a mysterious flycatcher or to document an unusual bird, for instance a Worm-eating Warbler that we saw at Morris Arboretum a few weeks ago. Those photos were pretty bad but they were good enough to prove that the bird was seen.

So I really don't care much about cameras. Nonetheless the new one I bought has a greater optical zoom than the one that died so I was anxious to try it out. I didn't see that many birds today, and the first ever backyard American Redstart from an hour ago wouldn't sit still. But I did get this passable photo of an upside down female Black and White Warbler. The other 4-5 didn't turn out but I was happy with this one. It's hard to believe that soon, well maybe not all that soon, the warblers will be gone until late March or early April. It will be like a day without sunshine.

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