January 16, 2019

Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek at Richland County Library

Opening Reception for Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek. It was a warm and lovely evening and the event was well attended. What a relief, though, to have the hard work over!

The audience was receptive and asked a lot of questions about the work. So many people were engaged with the art and I was encouraged by their willingness to explore complex pieces with all manner of hidden signs and symbols that must be ferreted out.

I was truly grateful for the opportunity to exhibit in a regular gallery setting again, too, for the first time in five years! If you get a chance, stop by this weekend for a look. The exhibition is open during normal Library Hours: M - TH 9 - 9 Friday - Saturday 9 - 6 and Sunday 2 - 6.

January 7, 2019

Janet Kozachek and Una Kim at Richland County Library

Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek, opens today at the Richland County Library at 1431 Assembly Street in Columbia, SC.  Opening Reception will be January 11 from 6:30 - 8:30 pm.   The exhibition is also open during normal library hours through March 29: M-TH 9:00 am - 9:00 pm FRI - SAT 9:00 am - 6:00 pm. Sunday 2:00 - 6:00 PM.

We look forward to seeing you there for this unique exhibition.  At left:  Una Kim: You can be Replaced.  Mixed Media on Paper.   Below:  Janet Kozachek: Artifacts 
Pencil on Paper.

December 22, 2018

The Japanese Stamp Drawing Number Three

This last drawing of a stamp rounds out a triptych on that theme. It started with the completion of a drawing with a Taiwanese stamp. I paired it with a Bulgarian stamp to make the drawings in to a diptych. The Japanese stamp from 1969 had been in folio ever since that date in childhood when my father found it on a shipping package and harvested it for his children’s stamp collecting activities. I had written earlier about why I had picked the stamp out for my collection, much to a muted snickering response from my brothers, as the Japanese woman in the stamp had no shirt on. But I saw something special in the stamp so kept it.

Doing some research in to the possible origins of the image, I came across some sites about commemorative stamps produced in Japan in the late 1960's and early 1970's. These featured the works of Japanese artists who had studied abroad in the early part of the twentieth century and learned western style figurative painting and drawing from the nude. Just as in China, Japan had no figurative tradition involving the nude figure, save for erotic art, and even the latter sported figures that were mostly clothed.

So when Japanese artists incorporated the nude or semi-nude figure in to their traditional wood block prints, it was a radical idea. Some of these also experimented with western perspective and foreshortening, as well as richly patterned backgrounds. In most of these, the nude was an aesthetic solitary figure, alone at her mirror or playing with a cat. I never did find the artist who created my stamp of the woman having her long hair combed, but did find a number of Japanese artists working in the 1930's who were making stunning wood block prints in art deco style. One artist, Kobayakawa Kiyoshi, created this lively woodcut print of a dancer in 1932. Smitten by the image, I incorporated this in to my design as well.

There is an amusing little detail in Kobayakawa Kiyoshi’s depiction of the Japanese woman dancing in western costume with high heels. Look carefully at the left foot and you will see that the shoe does not quite fit and her little toe is sticking out.







December 19, 2018

Richland County Library Exhibition

Today I delivered my half of the drawings and paintings for our upcoming exhibition, Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek.  The exhibition opens on January 7 at the Richland County Library.  Click on the Exhibitions button at left for more details.
The largest work in the show will be my acrylic and paper collage on canvas, A Dance of Heaven and Earth: From Inside to Outside and from Above to Below.
 In keeping with the bilingual theme, the composition is interspersed with Chinese characters written in various styles, all referring to the title.  The hidden characters are: inside:  内
 outside: 外 outside is written in a style called "grass," which is a lively cursive script.
above: 上 Is written in bold, regular script called "kai"  as is the character for below: 下
 heaven: 天  is written in an ancient form called "seal script," which is somewhat pictographic.

The earth, 土 is even more ancient in form and refers to a shrine to the earth.  Follow the central dancer's gaze downward to see it:

Finally, the dance:舞  This character was originally printed on to the paper from a stone seal that I had carved but the print did not take well and I ended up touching it up a bit with paint.  This is also the ancient form of the character. 

December 10, 2018

Cat Got Your Tongue Again?

The charcoal and pastel drawing Cat Got Your Tongue?, was begun a few years ago and I thought that it was finished, as it served its purpose at the time. With the approach of my two person exhibition, however, Cat now serves a newly revised linguistic purpose. My two person exhibition with Una Kim, Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek, will be permeated with all kinds of language and cultural ironies.

For this reason, my revised Cat Got Your Tongue? Now incorporates word play. Looking closely at the tongue of the cat you can see a Chinese character. It is the word teng, a verb meaning "to transcrib." Teng happens to sound like "tongue." Hence the cat not only has your tongue, he has your teng, too, and you are literally at a loss for words. The pearl necklace underneath the poor figure whose tongue is being bitten also sports Chinese characters. These are also pronounced teng (remember sounds like "tongue"), but are words for pain. A cat biting your tongue would be painful.

  A last verbal pun is included on the final pearl, which also reads teng, but is the word for "gallop." The Chinese language is known for homophones, with an infinite potential for puns, some of which fortunately sound like English.

December 9, 2018

The Bulgarian Stamp

The still life with an enlargement of an old Taiwanese stamp seemed to beg for a companion. Perusing my stamp collection from the 1960's, I came across a Bulgarian stamp that incorporated an art deco looking fish. The Latin words on the stamp identify this as a Hake fish, native to the South African coast. Could it have been part of a series of stamps depicting fish from around the world?

This stamp set the stage for everything that now surrounds it in the final composition. The old antique Encyclopedia of Embroidery yielded some designs with fish motifs, which I painstakingly rendered stitch by stitch. A fossil shark’s tooth served as a three dimensional "buckle" to unify all the paper and fibers in the composition. Finally, I transcribed from The Book of Songs, a poem about fish in a quiet pool.

In a final quirky finish, I signed my name in Cyrillic on the stamp, matching the Cyrillic script for Bulgaria.

December 6, 2018

Still Life with a Stamp of a Painting by Lang Shi Ning

My preparations for my two person exhibition with Una Kim are under way. Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek is shaping up to be a lovely and thought provoking show. Just as the title suggests, the exhibition is about two artists who trained in both Asia and the United States. We both met at Parsons School of Design in 1988, where we completed our graduate education in figurative painting and drawing. But we both had another side of our artistic selves that had previously been nurtured in a very different tradition. Una was an artist in Korea before the U.S. and I had lived in the People’s Republic of China for many years, where I trained in Chinese language and studio art at the Central Academy of Fine Art. East/West art is difficult to reconcile, as the crux of what is considered "right" and "good" in art is fundamentally different.

Through our art work, we acknowledge that which is translatable and that which is not. While engaged in translating an aesthetic, we are also introducing visual commentary on the what has been transformative in the years since leaving formal education behind. This includes confronting the cultural challenge of being an immigrant for Una and confronting a life changing illness for me.

After many years of difficult work, my body has become stronger and more capable of doing the work of writing, creating art work, and most recently, teaching again (albeit ever so slightly). My most recent work reflects that in its shift in focus from the transformed body on to the Translations part of our exhibition. It is still rendered in the black and white of my Kafkaesque drawings, but now plays with language and cross cultural influences. Some of this is subtle, as in my flattened out drawings of postage stamps and textile art. Enjoy here a drawing that includes a stamp with a picture of a painting by Lang Shi Ning, an eighteenth century Italian artist who traveled to China during the Qing dynasty and became a court painter for the emperor.

December 5, 2018

Cultural Overlay and Word Play

In preparation for the upcoming exhibition, Transformations and Translations: The Art of Una Kim and Janet Kozachek, I am now dividing my art work in to three parts: work that can be modified to suit the newly recognized requirements, work that shall be replaced, and work that cannot be replaced but must be re-purposed to use in a lecture only.

The diptych drawing of two figures, Cultural Overlay with Word Play, is an example of the last category. It won’t be on display but I still hope to use it in a lecture as it ideally suits the theme of the exhibition. The figures were drawn from plaster casts of classical sculptures found in a study collection in a museum. The one on the right has a title that alludes to ancient Greece but the writing is ancient Chinese. The script is written in a style that might have still been in use as inscriptions on bronze vessels in China and in a time that parallels the rise of ancient Greek civilization.

I will not translate everything here so as to leave something for my lecture, but will point out an amusing bit of word play in the three Chinese characters below the figure on the right. Chinese characters often have repeating parts, called radicals. Radicals are generally found on the left of a word, on the top of it, or surrounding it. The three words here all include the radical that means woman. I cannot type this in at present because my new computer does not yet have software downloaded to type in this script, so I’ve written this out on a separate piece of paper. Chinese characters can be compounded as logical aggregates which indicate meaning by a building up of parts. The first character, an, is such an example because it is composed of a woman underneath a roof and means "safety" or "peace." Other times the part does not indicate meaning but only sound. The second and third characters are phonetics, with the "woman" part signifying gender but the second part alluding to sound. Therefore the second word means "nun," with a combination of "woman" and "mud." This is not a disparaging remark about nuns, but rather that the word for nun, ni, "sounds like" the word ni for mud. The third woman is a mother, with the word for woman attached to the word ma, which means horse but is simply pronounced like mama.

The intended pun in this phrase is that an, ni, and ma all strung together spell out anima, a term coined by Carl Gustav Jung to describe the feminine part of the male consciousness.

November 28, 2018

A Conversation with Edgar Jerins

The following is an edited conversation with artist Edgar Jerins that is a continuation of my previous article.

JK: Your medium of choice is very simple: charcoal on paper. Why is this and what are the advantages of charcoal over other art media?

EG: Charcoal is immediate. It follows the mind to the hand to the paper in a direct path. My drawings are large, and technically, charcoal has a great advantage over graphite in that it moves quickly and can cover a large area in a shorter period of time than by drawing with graphite or by painting a substantial canvas. Painting a canvas might take me six to eight months, whereas a similar sized drawing , say five by eight feet, may take closer to two or three months of work. Also, when creating work that is black and white, charcoal gets the deepest blacks.

JK: Moving on to the subjects in your art, two things jump out at first sight; people pausing and often smoking, and the presence of animals. Depicting people smoking in art works has fascinating historical roots, beginning in the seventeenth century with painters such as Joos van Craesbeek and Adrian Brouwer and with artists such as Max Beckman in the twentieth century. In the seventeenth century, there was a somewhat moralistic approach to painting smokers as examples of dissolute conduct. Yet in the twentieth century, artists such as Beckman appeared to use the grasp of a cigarette as something confrontational - even defiant. What does the cigarette smoking mean in your work?

EG: When drawing, I try to tell everything I can about the people I am portraying. Of the people I depict smoking...they are smokers. I’m drawing family and friends and it’s a part of them. On a simple design level, holding a cigarette also engages the hand in a beautiful position.

JK: The animals in your drawings appear to be pets. Can you explain your decision to include them in the composition?

EG: I love animals and pets. Just like the other elements in the drawing, they are part of a person’s narrative. People who never have pets - they are a certain kind of people. For those who do, these animals are part of their identity and all the love and responsibility that having a pet entails. The pet is also an artistic tool - a life force which moves you through the drawing composition.

JK: One of your drawings, Harvey and Rachel in Jeweler’s Row, includes quite a number of these pets. Did this couple actually own all these animals? And other than being a part of their lives, is there another narrative that they represent?

EG: This is their place in Jeweler’s Row in Philadephia. I worked from life on location with their seventeen birds, a fish aquarium, and their five cats. The bird on Harvey’s arm is an homage to Goya’s famous painting of the boy in red with a magpie on a string.* If you look carefully at Goya’s painting, you will see cats in the background intently staring at the bird. This indicates how precarious and frail life can be. In my drawing, I sought that same predator/prey relationship in the alert gaze of the cats towards the newly released bird.

* Manuel Osorio Manrique de Zuniga, 1784-1792. Francisco Goya y Lucientes

JK: In a recent lecture, you spoke about addressing life changing events through art. How does this figure in to your own art work?

EG: I lost two brothers through suicide and one brother died homeless. The art makes the pain of these events visible and is an integral part of my artistic journey. In my lectures, when I talk about suicide and all these difficult things, I find that it is cathartic for the audience as well. You can take any person and you can generally find that they have been affected at some point by someone with alcoholism, drugs or mental illness. Life can be very tough. 

JK: Did your artistic journey entail a change in how you depict your subjects?

EG: I started doing my large drawings when I was around forty. Earlier my work was mostly figurative painting. I then changed to black and white drawing. The clothes went back on, and the figures became more specific and less idealized. The people in my drawings reflected their time and their personalities, even their habits. If they chewed their fingernails, I wanted to depict that.

JK: You are an art educator as well as an artist, and run a lively art discussion forum online. What is your major crititique of art education and what would you recommend to students seeking a quality art education?

EG: The problem I see with contemporary art education is that students are not being taught basic drawing skills, and worse, being told that they don’t even need it.

I would maintain that the single most important technique in art education is to learn how to draw, paint and sculpt from life, and to do so vigorously and accurately. Drawing from the human figure has been the gold standard for 500 years. The figure is the hardest thing to draw and paint. The slightest mistake will be glaringly obvious. There is no faking it with the figure.

My best advice to students is to draw from life and also to learn as much as possible about art without being closed minded about it. Art history can be ridiculous in the way it is written as a hierarchy of artists and art movements, ranking artists as important or not important subjects for how they advance a bizarre notion of "progress" in art.

Why a specific work of art or artist moves us is a mystery. Art students arrive at school with their heroes and favorites. These heroes should not be denigrated or dismissed as I’ve seen happen. A teacher’s role should be to honor the students’ favorites but to also expose them to a wide range of art and artists whose art they can incorporate in to their own.

Edgar Jerins is an alumnus of the Pennsylvania Academy of Art and an adjunct professor at the New York Academy of Art.    https://nyaa.edu/
Studio at Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts: http://www.efanyc.org/artist-news/2016/7/26/edgar-jerins?rq=Edgar%20Jerins

November 12, 2018

Edgar Jerins: Large Drawings and Small Gems

I first met Edgar Jerins at his studio in New York. This was an opportunity that was facilitated by my husband, Professor Nathaniel Wallace. Nat had published a pivotal book in art criticism, Scanning the Hypnoglyph: Sleep in Modernist and Postmodern Representation. One of my mosaics proudly graces the cover. This text discusses the work of a number of contemporary artists working in the figurative tradition, such as Vincent Desiderio.* Although Scanning the Hypnoglyph had been published by Brill in 2016, any good book deserves spin off articles on the same subject, so we still were on the look out for contemporary figurative artists.

Nat’s search led us to Edgar Jerins, who creates monumental charcoal drawings of figures within complex interiors - most often family members and friends.

The first thing that impressed me about Edgar Jerins’ studio was how well the artist was making use of a small area - space is at a premium in New York so it pays to be organized. Black charcoal pencils sharpened to precision points were carefully placed in neat rows on a dove grey shelf. Always one to notice the minutiae first, I wondered to myself how the artist managed to sharpen these utensils so finely, as my own charcoals always crumbled when I sharpened them. I felt that I was staring at hallowed ground so did not think to ask this question out loud.

Next to the charcoal and graphite pencils was a small colorful portrait of a middle-aged woman smoking a cigarette and gazing with a somber and somewhat wistful expression. I was immediately smitten by this small 4" x 6" portrait. It was unusual for being a colorful, tiny gem among the large black and white drawings. Mr. Jerins explained that it was a drawing in charcoal on pencil that was coated with amber shellac. This imparted a warm glow to the surface. The shellac also sealed the paper, making it possible to paint on the surface with oil glazes. The golden ground and the transparent colors gave this small work a jewel like quality reminiscent of the Durer portraits on small panels I had admired in collections of German and Flemish art. The portrait, I later learned, was of a beloved cousin.

Edgar Jerins’ large scale drawings were almost exclusively articulated in charcoals. In this small space, what I saw was an admirable feat - an artist who can use the most basic of tools to create sublimely complex drawings. It was a bold choice - to wield such fundamental things as sticks of burned wood, erasers and masking fluid. The only things left for an artist to rely upon when restricted to basic tools would be virtuosity and an engaging narrative. And these were in abundance.

Edgar Jerins drawings cannot, and should not be given just a cursory glance. Instead they must be explored. Mr. Jerin’s drawing compositions reveal layers of meaning depending upon the distance from which they are observed. Overall they are figures in interiors and landscapes. Move closer and they become psychological profiles. Observing closer still they become minutely defined patterns; a world in a dress; a jungle in a patch of twigs.

Unlike the figures of painters featured in my husband’s book, Mr. Jerins’ subjects are anything but somnolent. They are wide awake, confronting the viewer in a direct gaze. Some of these people could be said to have been summoned out of a permanent sleep, as they have been reborn from untimely deaths. Two brothers of the artist and a young female relative tragically ended their lives. Their beauty haunts these large environments.

Despite having borne witness to life altering tragedy, Edgar Jerins had a ready wit and a magnanimous nature. Undaunted by what he considered various permutations of a cultural status quo, his favorite topic of conversation was art world duplicities and the questionable value placed upon dubious art (a subject I will return to in my next post).

Edgar Jerins’ own art in this studio was unquestionably masterful and carefully crafted. These impeccably composed drawings had been worked to a high degree of finish. This was complimented by the same degree of finish, or closure, in the narrative content. Figures were not just present in these compositions. They had a role in shaping stories, almost like stills from a play or cinema. In the drawing, Tom in Winter (charcoal on paper 60" x 96"), Mr. Jerin’s deceased brother stood impassively in the foreground set against a background slice of suburban America on a cold winter night. It was an unsettling juxtaposition - houses seemed to represent a comfort and warmth that remained inaccessible to this man. One could still observe life in the surface desolation of Tom in Winter. Dessicated remnants of plants, a reminder of verdant times past, formed a complex rhythmic counterpoint to the stark architecture. There was something of comfort in the bittersweet persistence of the dry leaves and branches poking defiantly out of the snow.

It was something of a shock at first to learn that one of the drawings which most captivated my senses included a young girl who had taken her own life and a brother who had died homeless. Just as instantly, however, it became clear that their visages were so vital, so necessary to this art. How often had I read, heard, or experienced a person’s life summarized by their final months or even their last moments: an addict, a homeless person, a suicide? Such defining silenced the full scope of their humanity just as it truncated their history. In this respect, Mr. Jerins’ drawings restored wholeness. The direct gaze completed a picture, like the sticks in snow that remain from a previous spring serving to remind us of the persistence of memory.

Next: An Interview with Edgar Jerins




* Vincent Desiderio http://www.vincent-desiderio.com/