A look into the Virtual Members’ Show
Written by Book Arts intern, Megan Shortt
This year has been filled with some ups and downs. Ok scratch that, this year has been filled with an obscene amount of ups and downs, but we have all been taking them in stride and making it work. This year, we at the Book Arts Center have been taking it in stride too. We have created a social distancing approved show that can be viewed safely from the comfort of your house swaddled in your favorite blanket. The Virtual 12th Annual Members’ Show brings together artists around the country and created a pretty amazing show consisting of the art of our members allowing for anyone to view it regardless of if you live around Buffalo or not!
Being able to see all the artists different styles and get even closer to the art than you likely would be able to in person to look at their techniques is one of the wonders of doing a digital show. You can see the immense detail using the easy to use zoom feature on each image and since each artwork has more than one picture you can zoom in even easier on a closer image of the art. Of course there are pitfalls to this process of going digital as we all know by now whether you are working from home, all your classes are now digital, or you can’t create anymore due to COVID. When looking at the art, I felt I was missing a portion of it as I love art with texture and not being able to see the brush strokes or height of added paint or another medium was something a computer screen or photograph just can’t capture the same way an in person viewing can. But I think this is a small price to pay for staying safe and healthy in this time as one day we will be able to return to life before the pandemic and this will be part of the past.
Since a part of the Member’s Show is the gallery opening and possibly meeting the artists and possibly asking some questions about how they got started and their process I did that for you. I interviewed 3 artists, whose art piqued my interest and really made me want to know more about their process.
Q&A with Catherine Shuman Miller:
What drew you to the grid and wanting to manipulate it?
Originally, I was drawn to the grid as it was the basis for my “Maze Series” which I started in 2012. The initial work was for an exhibit sponsored by the organization Vive, which shelters and helps foreigners seeking asylum in the U.S. as well as Canada. I chose the maze as a symbol to represent their experience. The structure of the maze is basically the grid. From that point on I became so involved layering the mazes/grids, working on both sides of translucent mylar, playing with the transparency, creating depth and transforming the structure. Working with the grid also provided an intrinsic sense of order which was comforting to me at the time as my dad had just passed away. In my earlier work the grid is more obvious. Over the years geometric shapes have become more prominent. The grid provides endless possibilities to me as a point of departure and an anchor.
I saw that you used different mediums in your work throughout the past and now, what is your favorite medium to work with and what is your current favorite to work with?
I love the print medium and the entire process of creating a plate, mixing the colors, and printing. I painted for years and approach printmaking as a painter. Other than printmaking I don’t have a favorite medium, but love working with gouache, collage, and oils.
Your two pieces in the show (Twisted 2) are very similar, but have very different feelings due to the colors you chose. Is there a reasoning behind the different colors you were celebrating in the different pieces?
I choose colors to evoke a feeling or mood. I am often influenced by the time of year and environment where I am working. For me, colors tell a story as well as emotion.
Happy Birthday Card (Purple and Orange)
Who doesn’t love typewriters? I mean there is something so cool about them with the clickity-clacking of the keys that a computer just doesn’t provide. Watching the keys type away is just amazing. When I saw this in the online gallery I loved it for it’s gradient and interesting shape and not the fact that this was created with a typewriter. When I found out it was typewriter art made entirely with the letter O and M and different colored ribbons, I was amazed. As a college student, who rarely gets to use a typewriter let alone see one in person, I had never thought of the typewriter as a medium or tool in creating a piece of art and Frank’s art has started to change how I look at type and what it can be used for.
Q&A with Frank Singleton:
What got you into typewriter art?
Well, it all actually started on Thanksgiving Day in 1983. While my wife and I were waiting for the turkey to come out of the oven, on impulse I grabbed a sheet of paper and rolled it into my typewriter, which I had barely used in the years since I graduated from college. (I still have and frequently use this same typewriter.). On that day I typed a simple pattern, nothing special but I liked it and resolved to type more patterns. So I typed almost every day for the next several years, and the more I typed the more I liked it. I don’t type quite as much but I am still enamored with the vast multitude of patterns that can be created at the typewriter.
When creating a new piece what is your process? If something doesn’t line up do you have to start over or do you embrace the imperfection?
Occasionally I type something spontaneously without any preconceived plan. (I typed a piece I titled Spontaneity which is in the collection of the Perez Museum in Miami.) But usually I start with an idea and before I sit down to type mentally visualize a finished result and think through the steps necessary to achieve it. Speaking generally, I aim to create a “perfect image,” what I define as a specific embodied idea typed without mistakes and which is pleasant and/or interesting to look at. I type very slowly so as to avoid mistakes, because if I make a mistake I usually have to rip out the paper and start over. However, on occasion serendipity occurs and a mistake leads me to rethink and improve, without starting over, the image I aim for.
What is your favorite part of using a typewriter as your medium of choice?
The typewriter is my medium of choice because it is simple and direct. There are no elaborate preparations other than visualizing an image. One sits and types and sees immediately what has been done. I also like working with words and the typewriter permits me to merge the verbal and the visual. I am loosely affiliated with the Vispo movement.
I have looked at some of your other pieces on your facebook and instagram and saw that you often change the ribbon color that you use. Do you prefer working in color or in black and white with the typewriter as both create such a different effect?
I am comfortable working both in color and in black and white. Which I choose depends entirely on the idea I set out to embody. I generally believe color should be used only to enhance the intended idea and not merely because it is pretty or decorative. But there are exceptions and sometimes I do enjoy typing a profusion of color for its own sake.
Last question, have you ever had a problem with your typewriter breaking down and being unable to find a necessary part as typewriters are starting to get out dated (unfortunately)?
I now have five fully functional typewriters, but mostly I use only one or two of them. Over the course of almost 40 years I have needed few repairs, and that durability is another reason I like to work with typewriters. When I have needed repairs, and I can recall only three occasions, I have fortunately been able to locate one of the few remaining repairers (there is a good one in Kenmore).
Happy Birthday Card (Purple and Orange)
If you don’t know by now I love color as this appears to be a theme with these 3 pieces. Color is a huge component and this piece is basically screaming it from the rooftops and its part of the reason I love it. Bright colors are hard to use as they can come across as garish or too bright and this piece doesn’t have any of that. All the colors are bright and work together overlapping and forming their own new colors. Also this is not a frog. The frog is created from the formation of the mountain as if you look close enough you can see a tiny little meditating rabbit calmly sitting atop the frog mountain. This is a piece whose intention is one thing but at immediate glance is another until you dive deeper and really look at it. Sure, the first thing that drew me to this piece was the color, but I stayed and looked longer because of the visual complexity.
Q&A with Harumo Sato:
In your bio it states you traveled throughout many countries. What country did you find the most inspiring and why? And how does it influence your art today?
I cannot specify only one country. Each trip was unique and all unplanned, but precious encounters during the trip/ stay changed my perspective toward life. One thing I can firmly say about the big effect on art is that, in a way, we are similar. Even though each country has different language, customs, tradition, and religion, fundamental humanity is the same. That’s why I truly believe in Jung’s universal unconscious theory that we are all connected unconsciously. I have been seeking to create the art which connects with this hidden treasure all of us hold.
In much of your art I see you use color and even very vibrant colors like neons that some artists avoid. What draws you to using those highly bright and exuberant colors and do you sometimes struggle with using them?
In the Ancient era, people used super bright, high contrast colors to decorate their shrine. Many of the ancient Greek/Roman sculptures also used to be colorfully painted. This tradition still exists in Japan. Color is life, admiration, and passion. The colors come out from my heart when I am energetic. When I am tired and unmotivated, interacting with many colors brings me more energy. I guess in a way it’s like chi for me.
What is your favorite medium to work?
Depending on what I do. I think the most important part of creation for me is spirit, not material.
Much of your work deals with a relationship to nature or often creating your own creatures within the piece. What drew you to this and what do you find most important about it?
I believe that all living creatures have a soul. As if some people can hear color and see sound (Synesthetes), I believe that there are so many things/creatures that I cannot actually see but exist. We don’t live on this planet alone. We live with many different creatures, including animals, plants, and nature. Many ancient mythology and folklore have provided the essential narratives over centuries, but we tend to forget it in modern life. One of my missions is to make people remember this harmonious world view and ask people to reflect on their actions as a member on the Earth.
I implore you to look through our gallery of the spectacular artists and find one that speaks to you. Share with us!
ABOUT MEGAN SHORTT
Book Arts Intern