Sunday, May 26, 2013

Tattooed Squeegee Boys

Robert Boyd

I went to two print events on April 26 and 27 A lot of prints I see these days art quite genteel and pleasant. Printmaking's evolved into a rather polite artform. But it wasn't always the case--look at Minotauromachy, on view in the Picasso show at the MFAH. Look at the nasty satirical prints of 18th century England. And it wasn't the case at Burning Bones Press and the Continental Club.

Tom Huck, Pile-O-Poon from the portfolio Hillbilly Kama Sutra, 2010-12, linoleum cut print, 16" x 16"

Tom Huck is a woodcut and linoleum cut artist from St. Louis. He had a show at Burning Bones Press, a printmaking studio on Yale that is run by Carlos Hernandez. Hernandez is known for his silkscreen gig posters and music images--you might have seen them in exhibits at Cactus Records. As you can see by Huck's work and Hernandez's (in the links), this is neither polite nor genteel. Nor is it academic nor does it consciously operate within a particular theoretical system. It makes no pretense at being avant garde. It is not intellectual nor is it middle-class. It is not the kind of art typically shown in a high-street gallery. Sometimes it's called low-brow art. Whatever the economic origins of the artists, it self-consciously adopts a working class stance. And the price of much of the work is pretty working class, too. You can buy a Carlos Hernandez print from his Etsy shop for $25, although many cost quite a bit more.

Sad Tom Huck

We were chatting about George Jones, who passed away that day, and I asked Huck to pose for a photo. He had a big grin, but I said, "Don't smile so much--George Jones is dead." So that's Tom Huck thinkin' about George Jones. His print operation is called Evil Prints, and he counts as his influences "Albrecht Durer, Jose Guadalupe Posada, R. Crumb and Honore Daumier."

Tom Huck, Stag Night from the portfolio Hillbilly Kama Sutra, 2010-12, linoleum cut print, 16" x 16"

Tom Huck, Pleezing from the portfolio Hillbilly Kama Sutra, 2010-12, linoleum cut print, 16" x 32"

Tom Huck, Hillbilly Kama Sutra portfolio, 2010-12, linoleum cut print, 16" x 16"

The Hillbilly Kama Sutra was a commission for Blab!, a semi-regular periodical devoted to "lowbrow" art and comics. I love the portfolio cover--wood veneer with a glory hole.

The next day, there was an all-day event called "It Came From the Bayou" at the Continental Club, cosponsored by Burning Bones Press and AIGA Houston,  the local designers' organization. Printmakers came from all over the country to show off and sell their work. Everyone had tables, so it felt a bit like a comic convention.

The Continental Club taken over by printmakers

The pool tables in the back were used for display--Tom Huck's table is in the foreground.

From Tom Huck's table

The prints included their share of skateboard art

While a lot of the art included stand-alone pieces, a lot of it was in service of something else--gig posters, skateboard deck designs, etc. The functional art reflects the culture on display--they do rock posters and skateboard art because these are things they're into. (For some print artists, there is no separation between their enthusiasms and their art--the Fort Thunder artists in Providence in the 90s did silk-screened gig posters, hosted music shows, and played in bands themselves.)

The default medium is silkscreen. Silkscreens are quick to do (useful if you have to do a gig poster for a show next week) and have a poster-like visual punch. Obviously silkscreen posters have been associated with rock shows since the sixties, with a revival in the 90s when people like Kozik and Coop came along. But I was surprised at how many woodcut artists were here. If silkscreen is the perfect print medium for designers, woodcut is perfect for showing off one's drawing prowess.

But what I didn't see much of were etchings, engravings or stone lithography. My guess is that those print media are not ideal for the kinds of prints displayed here--large and with maximum graphic impact.

Matt Rebholz signing a comic for me

Matt Rebholz was the exception to the silkscreen/woodcut rule, showing intaglio prints with very fine linework. But he also had two issues of a comic book called The Astronomer for sale. This comic was funded by an outrageously successful Kickstarter campaign (he asked for $4000 and got over $11,000). The comic combines various myths and legends into one grungy epic of cosmic Aztec/Norse Yetis. It reflects another aspect of this subculture--comics (specifically alternative comics).

The Astronomer issue 1 by Matt Rebholz

Courtney Woodliff and her art

Another artist whose work I liked a lot was Coutney Woodliff. It also had an alternative comics vibe, reminding me stylistically of Krystine Kryttre, Jeff/Jess Johnson, Julie Doucet and Michael Dougan. In other words, it has a kind of 80s/90s feel to me. She was selling prints pretty cheap, so I bought one.

This violent image is like a collision with Johnny Cash, Courtney Love and Ed Gein. And that kind of defines the esthetic on display at this show. This was a kind of art that thrilled me when I was younger. Nowadays I get a little tired of the adolescent sensibility of a lot of this art (skulls! chicks! rock music!), but frankly I sometimes need the energy it gives me, especially after a season of somewhat enervating art by people like Liz Magic Laser and Tony Feher.

Sean Starwars' table

This was Sean Starwars table, and unlike many of the artists present, Sean Starwars didn't use his prints to show off his bravura drawing skills or brilliant design--they seem deliberately primitive and consequently rather refreshing. Sometimes stupid has a vitality all its own.

Nonetheless, the average artist here showed a high degree of craft. I wasn't surprised to see this Tshirt on the Infinity Prints table--master printers like Durer are held in high regard by these modern descendents.

Cannonball Press

This giant print from Cannonball Press suggests another influence--carnival and circus posters. The influences on the art here were schizoid--one one hand, renaissance artists like Durer and Hans Holbein are revered; at the same time, abject art like carnival signs and tattoo art are big influences. This speaks to the collapsing of hierarchies that was supposed to have happened with the end of modernism. But from where I sit, those hierarchies still hold sway for the most part--no less than 19th century French artists, we have our academies which offers artists official credentials (an MFA) and collectively look somewhat askance at the kind of artists shown at "It Came From the Bayou." But I don't want to portray this as some kind of great injustice. For one thing, the wall between these art worlds is porous--look at the rise of graffiti art in the estimation of the art world. And second, the printmakers at "It Came From the Bayou" and artists like them have made their own thing. They don't really need validation from Artforum.

There was a third event on Sunday at St. Arnold's brewery, but I didn't attend it. I had seen enough prints that weekend. But this is just the start of the annual print invasion here. PrintHouston has lots of shows and events lined up this summer. I suspect they will mostly printmaking of the polite, genteel school as opposed to the kind Courtney Woodliff and Tom Huck do. But it is nice that PrintHouston started off its season with this big barbaric yawp. I thoroughly enjoyed it.


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