Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Pick: Munakata and Colaizzo

Shiko Munakata, Six Women - Embodiments of the Main Buddhist Sutras, 1953, Woodcut

Shiko Munakata, Bluegrass Plains, 1956, Woodcut

Shiko Munakata, Herons Over the Ricefield Path, 1960, Woodcut

I've been a small part of a project that has been so unexpectedly rewarding to me over the last two months.  My friend and former grad school classmate Matt Colaizzo is having a solo exhibition at Napoleon Gallery in June.  At Napoleon for each show they pair the artist with someone to write about the show.  It can be any format; an interview, poems, an essay etc. and so when I was asked to write for his, I hesitantly agreed.  Hesitantly because I really admire Matt's work and while I find writing about art to be something of a 'necessary evil' to accompany my studio practice, I am always wary as to whether my words can convey in a professional and real way, what I think when I really like something.  It's a bit easier to write about things I find troubling or questionable.

Anyways, that brought me to the decision to visit Matt's studio and discuss his practice and see the progress of the woodcuts firsthand to gather my thoughts.  In the course of our two visits he introduced me to a lot of new things of interest; authors, co-op chocolate and some really amazing woodcut printmakers.  The one printmaker that has stuck with me is Shiko Munakata, some examples can be seen above.  Matt showed me a picture of him where he is so close to the board you couldn't fit a pencil between his eye and the wood, he is nearly blind and still making work up until his death in 1975 (below).  He is a printmaker that Matt identifies with and so that is where my essay begins.  (I am attaching the essay to the bottom of this post...)

But first I want to stress how important it is to go see Matt's show at Napoleon if you are interested in printmaking or just good visual objects and pictures in general.  His work is positively mystical in person.  The image of the postcard below gives a hint at the work and also dates.  I don't have any other pictures but trust me, (and its better than I don't have pictures anyway) -- It's a must see in person.  Opening is June 5th 6-10pm. 

Here is my accompanying gallery essay:

"“…spread India ink on an uncarved board, lay paper on top of it and print it…Whatever I carve I compare with an uncarved print and ask myself, ‘Which has more beauty, more strength, more depth, more magnitude, more movement, and more tranquility?’ If there is anything here that is inferior to an uncarved block, then I have not created my print.  I have lost to the board.” Matt looks up from the monograph on master printer Shiko Munakata he just read from and sighs, “Isn’t that great?”  We are sitting in his studio surrounded by blocks of wood, antique tools, and well worn, handsome furniture drinking coffee made in his grandmother’s original Pyrex on the stove.  His reverence for Munakata’s sentiment explains much of how he moves through the world and makes his work.  Respect for the materials and their origin, respect for technical ability, respect for printmakers gone before, respect for imagery with strength, depth, magnitude and tranquility.

Like influential Japanese masters Munakata, Hokusai or Matsubara, Colaizzo also looks to the natural world for source material.  However, unlike his predecessors, Matt lives in our contemporary world rife with environmental degradation, development and apathetic attitudes.  Rather than harp on the destruction and tension between man-made and natural worlds, a cliché well worn out in 2015, he takes a subtler approach.  Armed with a sketchbook and camera Colaizzo simply looks to what is out in the world, nearby, without judgment or political agenda.  For this body of new work at NAPOLEON, what’s out in the world happens to be rubble piles from construction of a new I-95 on-ramp.

He returns to the studio and makes a number of detailed drawings from these sources, looking for clarity and balance in composition.  Then through a long process involving carving into multiple boards, mixing and layering multiple inks, and scrutinizing multiple proofs, he arrives at a print that satisfies that original parameter.  The investment of time and labor elevates the knotty pine from which it came.

The actual printing of a piece like Untitled(Locality 1) takes all day, from 9am to 8pm, a slow, meditative burn during which the carefully planned and executed cuts into panel meet unexpected marks in the paper, ink or wood grain.  This entwining of high technical skill and order with fortuitous chance instills the print with a balance of yin and yang, wabi-sabi, that echoes the marvel of nature. 

And in fact, the work’s deepest power pulls from the very modest place of its origin too.  Rendering slag, a rejected, often dismayed material with such care and poetics as Hokusai renders Mt. Fuji states more eloquently what it means to uproot nature than any more forthright attempt.  Colaizzo lets us first see nature as the powerful, unmovable mountain so frequently depicted in eras gone by.  But then, the subject matter shifts into focus.  Like the sad beauty of a giant beast rolled over in its last breath, and then, just a carcass, this second wave of understanding hits in the gut; beauty, strength, depth and magnitude expanding through your stomach. 

The installation of the work adds to this sensation, with four panels facing inward, one must fully turn their body in the space to take in the panorama.  It is simultaneously sacred, the way four walls envelope the viewer, and expansive, as the space in the work seems to be vast and limitless.  The viewer is in the center and as Colaizzo explains, they are not the center in much the way humans think they are at the epicenter of everything, but they are in the center due to of the roundness of the earth which dictates that there is no center, there is no beginning and there is no end."


Peggi Kroll-Roberts said...

Another great post! Thank you! Aubrey, you asked me a question some time ago via Instagram. I totally missed it but when discovered I replied. Hoping you saw that. In regards to how my students choose their color scheme for the "separating light from shadow" exercise. I tell them to choose two colors in value that "make their heart sing". I have seen some really beautiful color relationships from this!
Thanks again for your great blog. Peggi

Aubrey Levinthal said...

Hi Peggi,

Thanks so much! Oh great, I was wondering about that as I am about to start a summer class. I like the freedom that you give with that and am impressed how good the exercises came out. Thanks so much!

Andrea Krupp said...

I really enjoyed your review, and Matt Colaizzo's woodcuts are beautiful and moving. I am so happy to have found your Blog, and am looking forward to reading more. Thanks! Andrea

Aubrey Levinthal said...

Hi Andrea,

Thanks so much! Aren't his prints just exquisite?



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