Thursday, January 29, 2015

New year, new art

We're not yet through the first month of 2015 and I've already had some exciting new projects come up! Here's a recap of where you can see my work in the coming months.

Kinglets at Manifest Gallery, Cincinnati, OH

My new engraving, Kinglets, is part of the Scientificous exhibition at Manifest Gallery in Cincinnati. Scientificous features the art of science and science in art, and will be on display until February 20. It's my first show in Ohio and I'm very excited to be a part of it.

February's artist for Start With Art: PGH

Pittsburgh photographer Matt Conboy has launched a new and wonderful initiative this year, Start With Art: PGH. Every baby born at St. Clair Hospital, the Midwife Center, and UPMC Mercy in 2015 will go home with an original work of art. During the month of February, babies will receive my photograph of this sassy little blue-breasted kingfisher, who I photographed in 2013 at the Cincinnati Zoo. Read more about the project in this article from NEXTPittsburgh.

My first solo exhibition

In March, I'll be exhibiting at the Courthouse Gallery in beautiful Lake George, NY. This is my first solo show, and will feature new prints, as well as the body of work I created in 2014 about fatal bird-window collisions. The opening is on Saturday, March 7th, and the exhibition runs until April 10th.

Online developments

I've transitioned into using this blog as a space to show people what's behind my work, so most of my announcements about exhibitions and events are now on my website and in my monthly e-mail newsletter, which you can sign up for here. Stay up to date with all that's going on!

Thursday, January 15, 2015

India, Part II: The Handmade

Last September, I traveled to India to visit my in-laws and had an extraordinary trip (see my previous post on the colors in India). In addition to the many overwhelming sights, sounds, and tastes I experienced, I had the opportunity to see a lot of wonderful artwork and appreciate the fine arts and crafts still made by hand in India.

Marble Inlay

Marble inlay, or parchin kari in Southeast Asia, is the technique of using cut and fitted pieces of precious stone to create an image. The technique was developed by the ancient Romans, and made its way to Asia by the 16th century, where it found its most extravagant expression in Mughal monuments such as the Taj Mahal.

The photo above shows parchin kari from Agra Fort in Agra, across the Yamuna river from the Taj Mahal. The emperor Shah Jahan built this fort/palace to test out the inlay technique before building the Taj. The precious stones and materials featured include jasper, serpentine, porphyry, mother-of-pearl, and lapis lazuli. Stones were imported from as far away as Afghanistan and Europe.

Below, a gate of the Taj Mahal at sunrise; the light glints a little off of the highly reflective marble and mother-of-pearl.

Because the Taj Mahal is such a famous destination, the craft of marble inlay is still a bustling industry. There are shops all over India, although the best ones are in Agra, and the best of those are run by descendants of the original artisans who worked on the Taj Mahal. We were able to visit one of these workshops on our trip.

Below, the artisans are using hand-held, bow-driven grinders to shape tiny pieces of stone.

Samples of precious stone, including turquoise, agate, malachite, lapis lazuli, mother-of-pearl, and sandstone.

These are the tools used to carve out the marble substrate that the colored stones are laid into:

The colored pieces of stone are arranged on the marble to ensure a proper fit. The backs are grooved and keyed so they fit together and into the substrate snugly.

The finished designs are often elaborate and always wildly colorful. You can tell how skillful and precise the artisans are by how closely all the small, fine pieces fit together — there's hardly any cement or filler.

Contrast those professional examples with this small elephant I took home, probably done by a student. It's perfectly lovely, but you can see the shapes are a bit more crude — particularly the curved edges — and it has a fair amount of cement in spots where there are none above.

Miniature Painting

Miniature painting is another thing that you can find all over India, although it seems to be the most plentiful and of the best quality in the north, where the Persian influence was stronger. The City Palace in Jaipur had several vendors, all clamoring for our attention at once, so I sat down at the closest table that looked like it had a lot of wildlife paintings. It turned out to be someone from the Ramdev family, a clan of award-winning miniature painters.

Miniature painting in India is done by grinding solid pigments or minerals into a stone with water to produce a watercolor-like paint, which is applied to paper or cloth with an extremely fine brush using small strokes. Building up a painting this way takes forever and they're often very detailed. Here's one with a kingfisher, painted on old papers dating from the Raj:

Block printing

No trip to India is complete without seeing some block printing! This old technique of building patterns using wooden stamps and natural dyes is still used to decorate all kinds of cloth goods, from clothing to housewares.

Here's what the carved wooden blocks look like — they're basically used as stamps. The stamp in the foreground provides the outline for the elephant design, and the stamp in the background fills in the colors on the saddle.

The design is printed in layers with fabric dye. Most shops use a combination of synthetic and natural colors.

The elephant design with two of its three colors:

All colors printed. This printer was experienced enough to eyeball the placement of each layer without any kind of guide or grid.

 These aren't the final colors. Next step is to wash the printed fabric in chemicals that make the dye react:

And voilĂ !

An example of layered block-printed fabric below. Complicated designs can include stamping the fabric with a waxy resist instead of ink, then dyeing the whole piece and later washing off the resist to show an un-dyed portion, a little like batik techniques.

As a printmaker and artist who works with images of wildlife — usually on a small scale — I liked seeing all of these traditional arts still done by hand.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A peek into The Passenger Pigeon

I received an early Christmas present this year - a copy of The Passenger Pigeon, a book written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last Passenger Pigeon. The author Errol Fuller actually contacted me after finding my work on this very blog, to ask permission to use my artwork in the book. Fuller, an artist, naturalist, and author, has written a few books in a similar vein about extinct animals. Of course, with my enthusiasm for birds and conservation, I was excited to be involved.

There are already quite a few reviews of the book online (notably from Huffington Post and Financial Times, the latter of which includes many evocative preview photos), so I won't write too much here other than to summarize the book. The Passenger Pigeon is the story of a species that went from the most numerous bird in the world to completely extinct in a matter of a few hundred years, due entirely to hunting by humans. As such, it's also the story of our own short-sighted folly and the awakening of the conservation movement in America. The book is full of pictures, everything from artwork, historical documents, and most interestingly, many photos of passenger pigeons, which can be hard to come by even with Google around.

I've taken a few snapshots of the book to share. First, the cover, featuring an illustration by the godfather of bird art, John James Audubon:

The contents page. Hello pigeon!

Here's where my work appears, in the section describing the pigeon's plunge towards extinction:

There are illustrations of birds throughout, many of them historical:

And some work by contemporary artists as well. Here's an amazing piece by Sara Angelucci, part of her Aviary series, which combines photos of birds and people in the style of cartes de visites. Do check out the rest of her site—it's full of fascinating artwork.

This was an unusual and meaningful project for me to be involved in; I'm really happy with how the book turned out. If you're interested in ordering a copy, The Passenger Pigeon is available on Princeton University Press's website, as well as through Amazon.