October 13, 2017

Pictures for Frontline's "The War on the EPA"

Frontline recently aired a documentary, "The War on the EPA." It was disturbing to say the least. What was poignant to me, however, was not just the actions taken to dismantle a regulatory agency, but the language used to justify it. The title, "The War on the EPA," is perhaps an ironic answer to the phrase "The War on Coal," bantered about by the fossil fuel industry and a rallying cry for support of the Trump administration.

There is no "war on coal." That is a fiction, just as this administration’s support for coal miners is a fiction. They support the industry CEO’s who benefit from the labor of the latter. Industry gets more money from deregulation, miners get a nod towards their healthcare but without saving their pensions: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/retired-coal-miners-get-health-care-fix-pension-problems-remain/. And does not the repeal of the steam protection rule simply allow industry to pollute the environments where coal miner’s live and work? http://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/319938-trump-signs-bill-undoing-obama-coal-mining-rule Considering the insult, it would seem to be almost obscene that this administration trots out coal miners at ceremonies to dismantle EPA protections. It causes me to wonder at how they get away with this.

Getting away with stamping out environmental and health protections appears to be about message and the money to buy that message. An interesting feature about the fossil fuel industry, for instance, is that they never used the phrase "fossil fuel." I noticed. I think this is their way of pretending that we don’t actually have a limited supply of the stuff. A number of science sites that I’ve read recently give our planet about fifty more years for oil, about the same for natural gas, and about a hundred and fifty more years to exhaust the coal supply. The caveat here is that after the first two are expended, we may not have that much time left on the last one after all. Here language such as the oxymoron, "clean coal," serves to gloss over the increased CO2 emissions from burning all that back up coal, thereby fueling climate change. And industry money helps send out a smoke screen to obscure and confuse the science of anthropogenic climate change to great effect.

Money buys effective anti-environmental protection propaganda and effective legal protection as well. In industry funded attack ads, environmentalists are depicted as demonized "elites" who care nothing for the working man or woman. It is apparently quite effective in garnering support. Perhaps some day we who care about the health of our environment and the well being of our citizens can come up with more effective messages of our own. For now, my charcoal drawings of fossils are just a bit irreverent.

October 10, 2017

Tiny Art to Break the Tedium for People with Tiny Budgets and Lots of Friends

It has been a while since I have done a serious inventory of my work. Inventory. Just the sound of the word gives me shudders. It evokes the torture of tedium. I grumble as I leave off making art in order to count, repair, sort and tabulate. Then I feel a certain sense of shame as I go through old mailing lists, taking out people who have moved or passed away. Inventory is vantitas - forced to confront one’s foolishness at not keeping things in proper order while joyously creating art that will most likely simply accumulate. 

Inventory subjects the artist to a comeuppance of facing unsold works, missing works, forgotten work, good work and not so good work.

After a period of delving in to boxes of stuff, however, I begin to make modest works of tiny art. What could it hurt? It certainly does not take up much room. And the nice thing about tiny art is that it can be done quickly, with a freedom to experiment. Most of these works are about 3" x 5" or so. They’re like grace notes of mixed media. I’ve posted a number of these already on my Etsy site as the season of gift buying is just about upon us. I even created a separate category of "Small Works" for that site. Tiny art for tiny budgets or for people with a lot of friends. 

October 5, 2017

East Art West Art

A friend recently posted something on social media about the difficulties he faced teaching art in China. I am being rather loose in paraphrasing here, but the chief complaint was that although his student’s work was technically proficient, he felt that it lacked a certain creative spark and spontaneity. The students, he lamented, were also not versed in art history as well as he would have hoped.

Having spent so many years studying art in China, this post and the responses interested me very much. During those years, I was impressed by the depth, complexity and ancient origins of Chinese art. Several lifetimes of study could not even begin to serve it well. What also impressed me was how poorly understood and isolated Chinese art was outside of the specialty disciplines of art historians.

Judging from the response to my friend’s post, this is still true in large part today. My friend was most likely teaching oil painting and perhaps some history of western art. I cannot evaluate the quality or depth of his student’s painting because no images were posted. I do recall that all those years ago, when I was studying Chinese art and language, oil painting was taught by professors trained by the Soviets. The gist of the post did make me wonder whether or not that legacy was still an influence.

What did surprise and disappoint me were other conclusions that Chinese artists do not understand spontaneity, improvisation, or ingenuity. How, I wondered, could anyone conclude such a thing given the improvisational nature and spontaneity of calligraphy? Or the ingenuity and spontaneity of ink painting? I mentioned such things on the thread...to the sound of crickets as the saying goes. I then had to remind myself that the writers were most likely not aware of Chinese art history at all, let alone the history of Chinese writing.

I suppose what perturbed me for a few days after reading the above comments was the unspoken is art history. Perhaps from a western perspective, and a western understanding of art this is so. But could not this grip be loosened just a bit in order to at least acknowledge that other cultures have a history and art equally complex, equally compelling as our own?
thought that Western art history

For a few days, I completed sketches I had made previously of early Greek and Hellenistic statues. But I included a new twist in order to complete them. On the kneeling figure I wrote ancient Chinese seal script characters, signed my name in Cyrillic, and made a cross cultural linguistic pun in Chinese and Latin. On the back view of the kneeling figure I wrote Chinese calligraphy in running hand (script) style. I do hope these drawings have nuance - although more likely they are now just obscure!

October 4, 2017

The Mediterranean Campaign of 1944 in Charcoal

Today’s charcoal drawing of a street scene in Italy, circa 1944, was inspired by my father, Walter Kozachek Sr and is based upon his World War Two photo journal. This drawing follows the original composition rather closely, although I gave the nuns a little more space.  I was rather taken by how my father included those two nuns walking up the street to the far right.  The drawings I am doing now alter the composition somewhat.

There are ninety-two photographs in my father’s collection. I am hoping to cull about thirty of these to compose large charcoals. With only four completed, the road ahead seems as if it will be a long journey.

September 29, 2017

Sicily 1944 and 2017

I have been mining an unusual source of material for my large drawings - old black and white photographs that my father took of ports in North Africa and Italy during World War Two. I was fascinated by these photographs not only for their content and drama but for their composition as well. Although I have been altering the composition in my final drawings in order to make them more "my own," there is not much work I have to do other than get the gist of the scene on to paper and work from there.

In a photograph that I believe to have been taken in Sicily in 1944, a group of women wash clothes. A man watches from a doorway in the background. There is a darydreaming expression on a woman’s face. Of course drudgery is a good thing to be distracted from. But where was that glance in to the distance taking her?

For my final charcoal and pastel drawing, I left the man on the left out of the picture. I joked to my stepsister that I sent him back inside to do the ironing, but really I just wanted more room for the ladder. Other final changes allude to the year 2017, the crescents of the eclipse in the woodwork, and a hurricane looming in the wash water.

September 25, 2017

Drawings From Photographs: In Search of the Mediterranean Campaign of World War Two Through a Sailor's Eyes.

When I was a young child, I used to entertain myself by hiding in my parents’ closet to read books and explore interesting finds. To my parents these things of ten to twenty years ago were not particularly old, but to me they were ancient artifacts. My archeological digs produced my mother’s old nursing shoes - which I did actually recall her wearing a few years previously. Old photographs appeared of unfamiliar people. But the strangest album was my father’s book of the photographs he took during World War Two. I was terrified of them. Some of them looked like corpses hung on a wall.

After summoning up the courage I asked my mother what they were. She explained to me that they were from Italy and were mummies from a crypt. My father served on a Destroyer Escort following the Mediterranean Campaign during World War Two. This took him to the ports of Italy and Northern Africa so there must have been truth at least to the location. Nevertheless, I suggested to my mother that these scary things should be destroyed. Much to her credit, she told me that these pictures were something like the pictures I make with my crayons, and how would I feel if someone destroyed my art work? But the photographs did disappear and I was not to see them again until a half a century later.

My sister was the first to unearth this album and notice the carefully observed details and the natural aesthetic my father employed in composing these photographs. I offered to scan them all and restore them. Before doing that however, I sat down with my father in order for him to identify as many as he could. Surprisingly, he was able to pinpoint the time and location of a number of these. Others were vaguely referenced as "somewhere in North Africa." That was back in 2011.

Six years of life-changing events later and I am back on this project. Looking more closely at these photographs, the details amazed me. There were some which are indeed frightening. Others were sanguine and charming. Some captured the angst of war. My mother was correct in that despite the subject, these were little black and white miracles of art.

I have begun the process of creating drawings based upon these photographs. I was inspired to do so when I noticed a kinship with how my father, Walter Kozachek Sr., arranged the elements in a composition and also in his choices of subject matter. What we shared was the subject of ordinary people at work and the composition of placing objects of action or interest towards the periphery. An example was his photograph of a street scene in what appears to be southern Italy - maybe Sicily. The boys scrambling on top of the horse carriage entered stage left, a man with one leg hugged the far right. The scene in the middle had a certain taunting ambiguity to it. What was in the envelope that the woman handed the sailors riding in the carriage? The other woman in profile with her arms folded did not look particularly happy. What was she thinking?

In reinterpreting this composition as a large charcoal drawing, I brought the horizon line down, which necessitated drawing an imagined row of windows and other compositional elements in the upper part of the drawing. The drawing is thirty inches wide, and because I typically work no larger than eighteen inches this took me a while to execute. But these drawings need to be large, as World War Two had its own epic proportions.

With a book on the Mediterranean campaign on its way, and my father’s endorsement of this project, an homage in drawings is coming in to being.

August 17, 2017

The Red Thread of Meaning

Drawing number sixty-four of the eighty plus that I hoped to finish for a literary project over the summer is now complete. This drawing illustrates the verse, "The Red Thread." The title, and the verse, comes from the German phrase, "der rote Faden des Erzählens." This can perhaps best be translated as a red thread, or the thread of continuity, in a story. It is difficult to find use of the phrase in English, but here is an interesting blog from 2012 that does grasp the meaning well: http://www.storydriven.net/blog.htm?post=885192

I first wrote the poem The Red Thread, after speaking with a philosophy professor in Germany who, despite a life of reading, writing and teaching, lamented not finding his "red thread." In this case he used the term in a broader context of a unifying principle upon which he could fashion a reason for existence.

In my original manuscript, the poem The Red Thread, is illustrated by a painting of a man squatting on a floor surrounded by red threads, all seemingly not grasped. In my new drawing, the figure does hold the red thread. Making this drawing helps me understand that drawing itself, especially setting long term goals with drawing projects, is my red thread.

I do hope that everyone reading this will find their red thread, whatever that may be.

August 13, 2017

Ostracon Overlay

Drawing number sixty-three, from my series of eighty drawings (I hope) for eighty verses, was completed last night. This drawing originated from the sketch for the verse "The Ostracon." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ostracon

An ostracon is a term used to describe ancient shards of pottery with writing on them. These were often used almost like ancient post it notes to write down the mundane notes and sketches from daily life. In this respect they are often useful to archaeologists for understanding day to day activities, conflicts and concerns of ordinary citizens in ancient societies.

In my drawing, there are intact vases as well as a fragment on a shelf in the background beside the seated figure. The dress pattern on the figure was derived from a pattern found on an ancient piece of sculpture from Mesopotamia. The sculpture in the picture on the wall behind the figure is also from that time period, circa 2600 BC.

The subject of pottery came up in an interesting way as I made my original drawing. During my sketching, my model mentioned the volatile nature of her family upbringing and how strong emotions and interactions were handled in her household. She explained that her family kept two sets of china on hand; one set for eating off of and the other for throwing. That was a very interesting way of dealing with sibling rivalries and parent/child conflicts, I thought. I also wondered how such a method would have panned out in my childhood home, with eight children. Imagine the piles of pottery shards!

At the base of the figure in my drawing, I placed two plates. One has hints of decoration that would ascribe its use to "good eating off of" china. The other is the plain, throwing variety. I wondered, if my friend’s china throwing exploits had some deeper, Mediterranean roots, as she described this habit as having been derived from the Mediterranean side of her family. In ancient Athens, for instance, citizens used ostracons on which to inscribe their voting preferences in deciding who to exile from a community - hence the root of the word ostracize. Perhaps over the millennia, groups of people decided to skip the writing on the pottery step and just fling it at people they disagreed with.

My old friend, who posed for this sketch, often used language to describe her interactions with people in a very purposeful way that often seemed to involve propulsion. Phrases like "I had to jettison that person out of my life," come to mind. The person in question then, becomes the flung pottery. I think that my preferred phrase in situations involving unresolvable conflict was more along the lines of "cut that person loose." Which is worse? Flung at? Flung out? Or just let drop?

July 14, 2017

A Tapestry in a Drawing

The second of my three recently completed 11" x 14" pencil drawings is "Man with a Hoop." In this drawing, the position of Dexter, the model, is echoed by a classic painting by Renoir, "Girl with a Hoop." This painting on the wall, as most of the other details in the drawing, were not in the original sketch made so many years ago in graduate school when I seemed to have an exceptionally short attention span. Other details that required fleshing out a bit were the container plant as well as the elaborate details in the fabric wall hanging.

It was a rainy day when I finished this drawing, so I had to haul the large potted plant up to the back porch and sit in the sunroom floor to render it in to the drawing. When choosing the fabric for the background I had a moment of self-effacement. I originally started reaching for my book on African fabric designs and then had to ask myself why I was doing that. This man was from New Jersey and was educated in an upscale school where he had designed his own program of study. Besides, I had already included a French Impressionist painting in the background. Being a man of the world, Dexter could easily have had a reproduction of that in his living space. So instead of thinking of the man as a shape, I decided to allude to his worldliness by making an elaborate quilt in the background. For this I used a pattern from our small collection of fabrics. My husband had found this piece in Winchester, Virginia and had to have it. I’ve attached a sample on the right so readers can enjoy the colors as well as the patterns.

The drawing itself is like a woven tapestry, curves echoing other curves, repeated shapes, and forms connecting in interesting ways.

July 11, 2017

Goya's Capricho No. 42 Is Now in an Odd Place

My intricate drawing that was only in progress when I wrote my last post is now finished. I often do not have a specific plan when I work on drawings, but rather, pull in elements from immediate observations and impressions. The design on the figure’s dress was plucked from an observation of the century plant growing in my front yard. Here is a picture of this lovely succulent with its pointed leaves and shadowy patterns.

The day I finished the drawing I was listening to scene three from Verdi’s Don Carlo. It was my original intention to include a painting within the drawing that alluded to Don Carlo. But the scene in question was a shadowy vision of the Spanish Inquisition. Who to better illustrate the Spanish Inquisition than Francisco de Goya. Goya is famous for a series of eighty aquatints satirizing the excesses of the Catholic church. These were called the Caprices, or Los Caprichos. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/nyregion/goyas-etchings-of-a-dark-and-complicated-past.html  Probably the most famous is the one about the sleep of reason producing fools. But that one didn’t suit and I instead chose Capricho No. 42, which depicted men carrying donkeys on their backs. It did occur to me while I was drawing these that some among my contemporaries would think that I was satirizing the Democratic Party. And was not Bill Clinton president number 42? But I told myself, "Nah, nobody’s going to think of that."

To my astonishment someone did read my blog post. I forwarded an image of the newly finished drawing to him and he asked if just might be satirizing the Democratic party. Oh! Woe is me! Unintended satires creeping in to my work! Is my brain now on automatic satire pilot?

It looks like this will take a bit more reading and research in order to ascertain, if possible, what Goya meant by Capricho No. 42. Then I might have something to say about what it is doing in my drawing.