When my print arts salon, Painters Under Pressure, suggested we do the Seattle Sampling December studio tour it was. . . . July. No sweat, plenty of time! Now we are all in that wonderful pre-show manic state of trying to make art round the clock while life in its inconvenient way interferes. Laundry? Bookkeeping? The Gym? Huh. I have never made so much work in such a compressed period of time. I think the happiest state, the state of mind I treasure most, may be just pure focus, and I’m there, even if I am wearing last week’s socks.
You can find the map to all 12 Seattle Sampling studios here. Jon Taylor, Ruth Hesse, Steve MacFarlane and I will be in studio 4 at 4000 Aurora Avenue North. The building is on the northeast corner of 40th and Aurora, on the east side of Aurora. It is easiest to come up Stone Way and turn west on 40th, and you will find parking available on the surrounding streets or in the building lot. Here is the specific street map for our studio.
On Friday evening between 4-9 we will have wine and cheese and first choice of artwork. Studios will be open Saturday and Sunday from 10AM-5PM. Come keep us company and celebrate the beginning of the holiday season! I will post details and reminders a few more times as the date grows closer. Follow our collective work for the show on the PUPS Facebook page or see my daily progress on Instagram.
Tuesday I went into the garden and was transfixed by the Japanese pear-apple tree. It had lost an exact number of random leaves. An offering of golden shards against the gray sky, one branch stood out. Transient beauty evokes equal measures of pleasure and longing. The camera can stop time, yet the capture is almost incidental, and does not really close the distance. It is only when I go back into time and consider it from ten directions and remake the instant slowly that longing is truly met with something I can touch and hold in my hand. Although there will be some prints on paper, most of the new work for the studio show is mixed media on plaster. The scale is intimate, between four and eight inches square.
Every day I reflect on the meaning of the title for this series: “The Gardener’s Almanac of Irreproducible Phenomena.” I think all of my work, whether it is about architecture, the street or the garden is at heart about impermanence. Printmaking is a way to mediate the tension between the irreproducible, the fleeting, and the desire to capture and hold, through the consciously editioned movements of the hand.
Predictions, November 12, 2015
In this year of fluctuating drought and deluge the Pear Apple, also known as Sand Pear or pyrus pyrifolia, will achieve a perfect asymmetry only rivaled by the six persimmons of Mu-qui. The presence of pale blue lichen will indicate that the tree is old but blessed and lucky to be still bearing fruit after three transplantings. The fruit! It will be plentiful and globed like many suns after a confetti of white blossoms. Harvest before the gray squirrel sinks his teeth into the flesh. Preferably before the moon gets too far beyond itself. Slice in a blackened pan, drizzle with brandy and clove. Wait until ripeness, serve to a stranger you would like to kiss.
Between January 12th and 16th of the following year a great snow will fall and this very branch that seems so beautiful now will crack under the weight. Consider emptiness. How the blue-sky lichen covers more and more of the tree until the branches look like currents in the lake. How hot it is! In June’s drought the tree feverishly blooms and blooms, but offers only one fruit in late August. People will say it is grieving. That it is shoring up. That it is tired and old. You will miss the bees, drunk and flirtatious on fallen fruit. But you can walk barefoot now without fear, and one day you will stand in front of the tree and reach up and eat the sun.
—The Gardener’s Almanac of Irreproducible Phenomena, Chapter 6
There are certain colors that just made life so much easier. Not to mention more luminous and radiant with saturated contentment and possibility, as if one were looking through a glass of lillet from a cafe in Firenze, just before dinner. Or surveying the vineyard from the ramparts, in a good year. And this color was not a cheap trick, although it could be used that way.
I am speaking, of course, about the dearly departed Quinacridone Gold, taken from us by unknown and sudden circumstance when I wasn’t looking. What you see above is my vain attempt to spin magic from earth colors, to replace a color originally used as dust on angel wings. Ochres, siennas, Azos, — pfft. Sorry Golden, I know you tried, but Azo is orange. I discovered after a panicked search that I have one nearly dried up jar of the original paint from 2007 (??) that I shall reconstitute and try to make last until the end times. Or I will just squint more and imagine that things looks as I should like them to. This new piece is underpainted with the beloved color and some other blends of earth and mica. Italy is but a dim memory here, muted by soot, but I wanted Quin Gold here to give a hint of radiance to the industrial scene glimpsed from the bridge above Harbor Island.
Image transfer onto rough and textured surfaces is not for the faint of heart. There is a lot of trial and error and holding one’s breath to move an image from photographic shimmer to an embedded life as an object. I think it is starting to work reliably, and I can begin to know how closely my imagery will translate. Now I am exploring the final finishes, and the technical issues of waxing over mixed media. Many of the craft solutions I have found online have no track record for longevity, so the scrapbooking community with its decoupage and furniture polishes has not been a lot of help on this.
When an acrylic resin is poured or painted over a surface it feels plastic and shiny, and for work with a textured field I want something more tactile. So far a satin wax from Stucco Italiano seems promising. I have also tried Renaissance Wax, Dorland’s Wax, and various of the Golden acrylic products, which never have the feeling I am looking for. Acrylic also tends to remain tacky forever, which makes shipping and wrapping complicated. On some of the Golden Acrylic resins I have used, like the tar and self-leveling gels, the Renaissance wax has seemed to help “cure” them so they are less fragile. But first the surface has to be scuffed with steel wool or another scrubber, and it tends to dull the colors. Both the Dorlands and Rennaisance don’t seem to “like” acrylic; they are finnicky, and sometimes come right off in burnishing. I welcome any suggestions from the surface fanatics out there. What can you put on acrylic to make it less shiny and more resilient, while keeping the brilliance of the color? What are your favorite final varnishes for mixed media (that won’t eat through paper or yellow over time?)
To unwind at the end of a day in the studio I have become a passionate fan of the Beautiful Italian Men Putting Plaster on Walls channel on YouTube. My new favorite form of “time-based art”: Italian men troweling plaster on walls with immaculate authority. To wordless soundtracks of lugubrious largos and antic allegrettos. Vivaldi never looked so good —I recommend it.
Although I am a avid gardener, the kind of gardener who intentionally plants things with an eye to color and texture and contrast and who pulls out weeds, I have to confess that my very favorite flower in the world is the dandelion. I have been trying to capture dandelions since I was about three, when I was first photographed eating them, which I will say was much less satisfying than blowing them and watching the seeds fly up into the air.
In July I took some photographs of a particularly expressive weed against the crumbling wall of a parking lot, and the image has been murmuring to me ever since. It was an exquisite morning spent in the company of my mother and old books. Somehow the grainy pages of her 1930’s Latin primer and a distant memory of a print by Albrecht Dürer came together in this image.
My scale with the current Almanac series of botanical work is intimate. This print is 8″ square. My intention is to make a second image in which the photographic elements are directly transferred into the plaster which forms the background. It has been a very challenging piece, composed of at least a dozen “plates” ie. Photoshop layers, on which I have drawn and erased and shaded with my digital tools. It is slightly crazy to try to convey incandescence with low contrast, but everything about the original moment when I saw this beloved weed was about innocence and light and the uncapturable haze of memory—which is a quiet place. Perhaps I should let Robert Creeley explain, from his poem “The Immoral Proposition”:
If quietly and like another time there
is the passage of an unexpected thing.
To look at it is more
than it was.
After my inspirational time with Jennifer Carrasco I am diving into the new/old technique of Italian plaster and reveling in what happens when you let surface speak. In the past I’ve tended to get nervous when I spend a lot of time making a surface to paint or draw on. The calligrapher in me wants to have a stack of a hundred sheets of paper and nothing to lose by drowning in ink, again and again, and throwing whatever happens on the floor for later reflection. The word “precious” comes up when I think of sanding and painting and sanding again and then glazing and . . . then trying to put something down on such a huge investment of time.
If you are a recovering calligrapher or watercolorist you know this tyranny of the perfect sheet of rag paper. With a pristine sheet of BFK or $20 rice paper there is really nowhere to go but “down.” The difference with the plaster technique is that the surface is full of imperfection and invites more of the same – and I’m calling that beautiful. Every disaster can be resurrected and made into something new, with the added beauty of the previous layers coming through. As someone once said to me as they observed my highly evolved forms of procrastination and avoidance, “We are all more human than otherwise.” So why not just get busy with being human.
That said, a few of these distressed surfaces are so compelling they give me pause, and it seems I will need to make a whole lot of them before I feel truly free to improvise.
When I prepare a surface I feel just like I do when I am wiping a traditional zinc plate for the printing press, the difference being that I can avoid the follies that happen when it gets transferred to paper. There are times when I love printing and can go with the flow of the transformations of the press, but more and more I am just plain in love with the plate itself. I think it’s the architecture element: it’s a real, solid thing. Speaking of architecture, I am continuing the theme of structures in some of this new work:
This is a miniature, all of 4 inches square, a test for something I plan to do large, but it’s pretty cute tiny. On a road trip with my friend, the talented painter Patty Haller ,we passed a completely amazing construction site, and she said, we have to stop, right? Who could say no to this?? The best friendships come with a detour clause.
This one is an experiment with material from my trip down the Duwamish:
All of this new work is a combination of image transfer, plaster and paint. The glazing materials I purchased from Stucco Italiano have a lovely two hour open time and for once I am not cursing acrylic – it can actually flow, and smear, and be rubbed off and layered again without those awful streaks that come from quick-drying mediums.
My other muse is nature. From the tangled garden at the end of summer:
The word “Almanac” has been on my mind, and it may be the framework of this new work. It was a brutal summer for anyone who has invested time and love and water in a garden. I am thinking of the old guides that could tell us the future with some flour-sack certainty, of a simpler world ruled by the moon and the occasional volcano, when the only news came from a neighbor, and when we would be spending these September days putting up fruit and tomatoes and burying our future in the root cellar for later celebration. These are my pages from the Almanac, that edition you can’t find in the Library of Congress; fragments found after the fire at the conservatory a long time ago.
Stay tuned for news of the upcoming Seattle Sampling studio tour, where I will be offering a selection of this new work. All images © Iskra Johnson
If you have ever attended a soiree at The Ruins, Seattle’s most exclusive and mysterious supper club, you may have looked up for a moment across the gilt rim of your absinthe and locked eyes with The Cougar. As your gaze moved from the patterning of leaves to the shy otter and then to the majestic drape of the big cat’s paws you may have found yourself wondering about the artist, and the style, which is an uncanny blend of ornament and botanical exactitude. The Cougar is but one panel in an epic mural that goes from ceiling to floor, creating an atmosphere of timeless excess and contemplation. Hearing the artist’s name was “Carrasco,” you might have assumed the work was done by some Italian guy imported from The Old Country to put a polish on the Northwest.
You would be right that the artist was imported, but he is a she, and she comes from the Inland Empire town of Pomeroy, next door to the Palouse. Jennifer Carrasco got her start in the dry scree and lazy rivers of the American west. There she fell in love with landscape and learned the stillness that comes of wandering quiet empty places. The oldest of four daughters, she was raised going to mass every Sunday and singing Gregorian chants. A close-knit town with deep roots, Pomeroy embodies the best of family, connection and continuity, but it’s also the kind of place an imaginative person might yearn to leave, just to see what’s beyond the hills. After getting her BA degree in art and education at WSU Jennifer took off for the big world.
She has led many lives, far beyond her small-town roots, as part of the Peace Corps in the Phillipines, as a mother, a poet, and as a painter and teacher in Japan, Alaska, and the deep South. By the time she landed back on the West Coast she had a wealth of artistic influences to draw from. Her assignment for the Ruins was to create a style of “Northwest Rococo,” and every detail of fauna and flora is researched and authentic, drawing on a year of research into painting styles, ornament, and museum artifacts and diaries from the early days of the Northwest Territories.
This level of immersion is not unusual for Jennifer. She is a passionate artist’s artist. With each project she dives into history and genre with avid curiosity and fearless energy, bringing disparate influences together in new forms of visual language. As her friend for the past fifteen years I have marveled many times at her mastery of style. Paint a horse in French chinoiserie? Sure, why not.
A trompe ’oeil bookcase (with x-rated titles?)
A 17th century bacchanal ala Chardin and Velasquez for Seattle’s premier restauranteur?
But although Jennifer is a shapeshifter and style virtuoso I think she always returns to a place uniquely her own. My favorite paintings come from her relationship with the land. You can condense that in the standard phrase “landscape painting” but that does not do it justice. In her paintings of rivers and trees I can hear the wind blow and the river snails inch along stones in the shallows. Although her skill is daunting, it does not obscure an almost mystical sense of “being there,” reminiscent of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, my favorite passage in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
I visited Jennifer this August to see her latest landscapes and to shake myself out of an artistic funk. I needed an immersion in craft, and who better to go to for that than a master muralist? I asked her if she would give me a primer on plaster, and remind me how to become absorbed in work, in a zone with no internet distraction. Forget Pandora, checking the news feed, Facebook or Instagram every ten minutes – this is a woman who works from 8 at night until 4 in the morning listening to books on tape. Instead of spouting trivia on the latest political scandals from the Huffington Post she can chat about actual literature and quote poetry at the drop of a hat. Whenever we visit I leave inspired and determined to live with more intention and depth.
Jennifer’s studio is tucked into the backyard of her lovely garden home in West Seattle. Each summer the front yard glows with peonies and poppies and tumbling roses. This time of year the echinacea has taken center stage.
Nature is everywhere, demonstrating the principles of Darwinian survival and providing anatomical reference for the details in Jennifer’s paintings. Her studio is an organized disorder of paints, tools, and work in progress.
We started my tutorial with basics, the tools, the techniques, the patience. She showed me a few examples that made me wonder if I might want to go lie down for awhile, and dream of Pompeii instead of trying to actually do this.
She got me set up, and I began at the beginning, always a good place. I think the trowel is the most beautiful tool I have ever seen.
While we waited for things to dry we ran down to Stucco Italiano, in Georgetown, where Jennifer teaches workshops. This place is an absolute gem of a resource, where you can learn how to do traditional fresco and wall treatments and buy Venetian plaster, the real thing. This is such an intoxicating environment. I can’t wait to go back and take some of their classes.
Jennifer is a gifted teacher. She gave me just enough technical advice and encouragement to get me involved, locked my cellphone, and then left me to my own devices. Surface! I am smitten with marbledust.
As the afternoon light drifted in I took a look around and fell in love with this painting, a new direction of Jennifer’s in which she is capturing her memories of the land in acrylic, on canvas. This piece speaks to me so much. It takes me back to my own childhood growing up on a farm, wandering with dogs, waiting for Pan to step into the meadow.
More from the new canvas series:
And from her watercolor series on rivers:
Jennifer is a much-loved teacher in the decorative arts community. Her popular watercolor classes are held at C&P Coffee, where she teaches evening sessions and workshops. If you haven’t been to C&P in West Seattle do visit. It is a remarkable center of community, art and music.
You can contact Jennifer through her website, Carrascostudio.com to purchase paintings or to take private instruction. If you would like to find out more about her sources of inspiration and see her most recent work follow her wonderful blog. You can read about our epic road trip to Pomeroy and the Eternal West here.
As August fades the light changes from amber to cooler colors. A recent visit to Whidbey Island and my favorite muse of land and sea, Ebey’s Landing, inspired this new print, “Passage.”
Sometimes a certain vista feels eternal. Seasons may alter the colors, as well as the winds and the taste of the salt, but the silence that holds it all remains constant. The official name of the Northwest’s main waterway is “Puget Sound,” but those who live here just call it the Sound. You will know why if you climb the bluff at Ebey’s Landing and stand there for awhile on a hot summer’s day. Give yourself enough time to settle into the golden grass, and let at least two ships go by. Then walk back along the beach and don’t leave until every pocket is full of warm stones.
Both of these prints explore the aesthetic of traditional Japanese woodblock, approached from a modern perspective, using digital photography and printmaking. I am thinking about rice paper, and pale inks from porcelain bowls, and the colors of silk on old kimonos. In Yoshitoshi’s day, and in the time when Ebey’s Landing got its name, the world was roiled by mayhem and violence. Oh wait, and that might be true as well today . . . When there is a moment of peace, I’ll take it, and keep it with me.
“Passage” and other prints from The Floating World, Construction|Reconstruction and Infrastructure, are available at SAM Gallery. If you are interested in a studio visit to see other work I can be contacted here. A previous post tells the story of the Floating World and my muse, Yoshitoshi.
I have recently begun writing on Medium. Today I have published a piece about the garden, and what it is like to be a caretaker of Eden when global warming turns everything upside down. Here is an excerpt, with new artwork done in homage to the magnolia. I hope you will visit Medium to read the entire essay and share with friends, gardeners, and anyone looking for ways to think about living in this time of drastic change.
What is resilience? This is the question I ask myself hourly in the summer the West is on fire.
It is August. Poppies and cosmos intermingle, their ungainly stalks eye-high and lassooed with string. The distance shimmers in incense. The air is thick, and sound travels and bends slowly around corners. Even airplanes seem different, with the lazy small propeller sounds of a slower century. August defies the laws of breathing. You can exhale and stay there, moving neither forward nor back. Look at the dogs, and the lawn, indistinguishably golden and bleached, panting, lolling, wordless. Be like them. Walk barefoot into the garden at dawn in a long white dress and feel the stubble against your toes. There will be only one cool moment before evening and it is now.
I stand for hours with the garden hose, saving what trees I can before rationing begins. The ground dampens quickly but after months of heat I am no longer fooled. I can sink my fingers into the dirt and know it will be bone dry. When dirt changes character and no longer knows how to receive, the scientists call it hydrophobic. The garden hose and watering can, these symbols of all things fecund and generous and regenerative, have met their match.
The loudest sound in the garden is magnolia leaves. When they fall they clatter against the stacks gathered at the trunk. But as the lower leaves drop and the center becomes bare the crowns explode in feverish new growth and blossoms. I ask the nursery, and they say what nursery people always do: It’s too much water. Or not enough water. Or too much fertilizer or . . . not enough fertilizer. My favorite answer is “They are getting rid of the leaves because they don’t need them.”
If I were a magnolia I would want to keep all my leaves whether I needed them or not. I would want to be as beautiful as a grove in a Persian miniature. I scrape leaves into sacks already filled with what I have ripped out, what no amount of water will save from the heat: day lilies, creeping jenny, crocosmia lucifer, fragile fern, pale green hosta, the hellebore that laid down and never got up. What remains has deep roots, few needs.
A note on the artwork: I will be showing as part of Seattle Sampling in November, and am developing some new mixed media ideas on plaster. Stay tuned to see how this evolves. It’s very exciting to try a new and messy technique, blending digital imaging, surface, paint, lots of rags, buckets, doing and redoing.
I currently sell my work through the SAM (Seattle Art Museum) Gallery and directly through my studio. SAM Gallery has a wonderful new space in the museum in the heart of downtown Seattle. One of the unique and very smart things the gallery offers is the option to rent art as well as purchase. Many companies and individuals start by renting art at a very affordable monthly rate and then decide to purchase, with the rental costs going towards the purchase.
My print prices range from $300 for the smallest work to $1,800 –$2,500 for larger prints, and the cost is the same whether you purchase from the gallery or through me. To learn more about my prints and about digital printmaking go to the print section of my website. If you choose to buy from me directly I can ship unframed prints to you if you are out of the area, or I welcome you to contact me for a studio visit, where you can see a large body of work and examples of framed work.
I also work in many other media besides printmaking, and I sell my drawings and paintings directly or through SAM Gallery. The prices of these pieces vary greatly depending on medium and size, so if you have interest in a particular piece please feel free to contact me for more information.
“The Seattle Art Fair will showcase the vibrant culture and diversity of the Pacific Northwest by building on the region’s existing momentum to create a truly unique, innovative art event that will further establish Seattle as an influential player in the global art landscape.” — Seattle Art Fair
Seattle artists and collectors are buzzing, in their quiet Northwest way, about the opening of the Seattle Art Fair next week. There is so much happening!! Yes, it deserves two exclamation points. To get the big picture, preview the official fair at Artsy. Visit the fair’s events page to see the line up of lectures, site-specific work, and partâys, chief among them the gala fund raiser opening benefiting Artist Trust. Many of Seattle’s finest will be participating, as well as an impressive roster of the best galleries from Los Angeles, New York, Miami, Asia and Great Britain. Thank you Vulcan for bringing the world to our city.
The Seattle artist community has rallied with an astonishing line-up of satellite art exhibits and events running concurrently over the course of a week. I don’t know how I will choose what to do, because I want to see everything. I’m a jeans and earrings person, so the burning question is what am I going to wear?? I think I will call Kelley. Maybe she can loan me an ensemble or two. Since the official Art Fair is pretty well publicised I thought I would use this space to give some ink to the satellite events and exhibits that will be happening around the fair and concurrently.
Out of Sight at King Street Station
From Vital 5, and curated by Kirsten Anderson, Sharon Arnold, Greg Lundgren and Sierra Stinson, this 24,000 square foot survey of contemporary art in the northwest will showcase 80 emerging and mid-career artists:
Vital 5 Productions has a long history of championing contemporary art in the Pacific Northwest. Since the mid-1990s, we have been producing exhibits, events, experiments and creative content that celebrates all that makes our region so dynamic, original, and largely out of sight. When we heard about Vulcan producing the first annual Seattle Art Fair in the summer of 2015, it was almost immediate that we wanted to support the fair and harness the international attention the fair will bring to Seattle. From this energy emerged a new exhibition opening July 30th in the historic King Street Station.
You can try running between the two openings, The Official One and Out of Sight because they are within a few blocks of each other. Tickets to Out of Sight opening night and fair can be purchased at Stranger Tickets. Keep track of Out of Sight on Facebook and Instagram.
Satellite Seattle is a new website designed to showcase and celebrate the richness of arts culture in Seattle. Aggregating and presenting an exciting schedule of activities in orbit around the Seattle Art Fair, events across the city will be included in one site that will have information on venues, events, artists, maps and opportunities to participate.
Satellite Seattle will also be hosting four days of events designed to share and appreciate the talent of our city, working in partnership with Northwest Film Forum, Yellowfish, Capitol Hill Arts District, Studio Current and New TMRW, with artists and venues focused on Capitol Hill.
Check out their calendar of events, and while you’re at it put Vanguard Seattle and City Arts on your reading list. I’m sure the smart people there will have some trenchant observations about this week long art circus.
Art of the City
In around the infamous TK Building and farther afield, take a look at the lineup for Art of the City. Arts, Music, Performance, open lofts, in the electric heart of Pioneer Square’s art scene. If you are visiting Seattle from out of town why don’t you just settle in for awhile?
The wonderful people at Collect are cultural partners with Seattle Art Fair. On Saturday, August 1, they will be running circulator busses to take participants to offsite events. Your ticket entitles you to a VIP pass to the fair, which includes access to the preview party on July 30th. Check out Collect on their Facebook page.
Seattle Art Museum Gallery Artists at Seattle Art Fair
Come visit SAM Gallery and see a special show in celebration of the Seattle Art Fair. I will be exhibiting in the company of many other artists who’s work I adore, including Warren Dykeman, Kate Sweeney, Linda Davidson, Troy Gua, and Kate Protage. One of my pieces from the show is below.
That’s the round-up! If I missed something do shoot me a note and I will either add it into the text here or publish your comments.