Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Moku Hanga and 'The Natural Eye -2018'

Completed 8 block Moku Hanga print of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

It was approximately 12 year ago that I made my first artworks using birds as subject matter. Perhaps some day I'll show them as proof of just how bad they were. But not today. Sufice it to say though that the transition from many years of abstract painting and drawing was not easy. I still cringe when I look at the watercolors from that time.

But as bad as the work was there was another problem. I had no guidelines, no one I was trying to emulate. I'm not quite sure how I stumbled upon 'Drawing Birds' by John Busby.  Perhaps it was through the Wildlife Art section of  Birdforum but I don't think so. To make a long story short it was through that book that I realized it was possible to make art based on birds that was lively,  exciting and not totally removed from the world of art as I knew it.

Eventually I realized that there was a particular group, with an annual exhibit that included some of the artists from that book but that included even more artists that I liked. The group was The Society of Wildlife Artists. As the years went on and as I realized that artists I admired from Birdforum, like Nick Derry and Tim Wootton, actually were members and exhibited there I decided to apply for the show. This was a blind leap on my part. It wasn't so much that I thought my work was good enough to get in. I just admired the work that was in it so much that I wanted to also be in.

So it was a great shock about 8 years or so ago to find out that two of my linocuts were chosen to be included in the annual show. There was a bit of a problem with Customs that made me fear that even though  I had shipped the works there that they still would not get in. By some miracle, still unexplained to me, they did make it through Customs  and into the show. The Mall Galleries were kind enough to send me a couple of photos  of  my work on  the wall.

Since then I've applied numerous times, only stopping when either the costs got too high, or I couldn't figure out the newly required need for a VAT number for English tax purposes. But eventually I figured the VAT problem out and have been thrilled to be in the show three additional times. As time went on much of the work in the show was made available online for both viewing and purchasing. I had to pinch myself when I saw my work in the same online gallery, reflective of course of the real gallery, with so many artists I  admired. They are in fact with rare exception the artists who I most admire in the world who also use wildlife as their subject.

But there has always been a nagging problem. It doesn't  quite seem real because I've never actually been to London to see the show. Since my wife's  best friend moved back to England a few years ago I've thought that the next time I get in, assuming I do, that we should make a real effort to go to London to see the show.

It seems the time has come. I'm happy to say that my three most recent moku hanga prints were all accepted to this year's show! that includes the newest one, an American Woodcock at Magee Marsh, as seen at the top of this post.

That work as well as my other works, and many of  the other works in the show can now be seen at What's On - The Natural Eye. I've long admired from across the Atlantic the work in the show. For a change I'll be able to see it in person.

Pencil field sketch of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Most of the time it's difficult for me to start a new print. This wasn't as true when I started off with my first linocuts. The best process seemed to be to just start with a vague idea, improvise as I went along and then stop  when I was happy. I still like those prints, though I'm happy to be done with the need for solvents for oil-based inks that I used in them.

But as I went on making prints, and as they got more complicated, I got more deliberative. This was especially true as I moved to multi-block prints, and even more true when I turned to moku hanga at  the beginning of 2017.

I also have had a hard time reconciling realism and abstraction. So on the most recent print of  the American Woodcock I started off with a field sketch of one from Magee Marsh(above), then started doing more simplified and abstracted versions.

Two pencil and Neocolor II studies of  American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

In the studies above I think you can see how I simplified the woodcock but still tried to keep its essential characteristics.

Watercolor of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Early on I realized that birds exist in an environment. For me they just don't look right when they seem to be portraits, as from a photographic studio. So over many years I've struggled with giving  them an environment that in some ways seems believable, but that also doesn't detract from the appearance of the painting. It all needs to add up. So that's what I was experimenting with in  the  watercolor above. The watercolor studies below helped me on my way to the simplifications I showed earlier.

Watercolor studies of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Below you see one of the final attempts to meld the abstracted bird with a more abstracted environment. It wasn't too many steps from there to the finished print.

Neo-color II crayon study of American Woodcock by Ken Januski.

Most if not all artists are products of their history, their likes and dislikes in art, etc. I doubt that it will be obvious but the final print does have an attempt by me to include a reference to one of my favorite contemporary painters, Richard Diebenkorn, especially his Ocean Park series. Most likely this will make sense only to me. But it is one of the many parts of the final moku hanga print.

Moku hanga is a type of printmaking with quite a tradition. I admire it and appreciate it but can't see myself making traditional Japanese woodblock prints. So in some ways my prints probably seem sacrilegious to that tradition. But that's not my intent. I'm just trying to take many of the admirable elements I see in that tradition and turn them to my own uses. I think I'm getting closer, at lest in my own eyes.