Wednesday, February 23, 2011


Artist's Canoe by Jon-Erik Kroon

Guest curating printmaker Marshall Heaton's show Bombs & Babes at ARTspace was so much fun, I decided to guest curate again!

Jon-Erik Kroon is an artist from Wallaceburg who is well-known for his unique printmaking style. Recently, his work has gone off on an interesting tangent, and he's created a whole body of work featuring the flora and fauna of Southwestern Ontario. His paint is actually different kinds of mud mixed with water from the Snye River. Objects like seeds and leaves, which he affixes to his canvas, are from his woodland property. He incorporates feathers and bones from dead animals he finds in his area. His works are like a visual archaeological dig. Jon-Erik's approach reminds me of Anselm Kiefer's show Palmsonntag, which I saw at the AGO a few months ago.

I know there is extended verbiage on the ARTspace Chatham-Kent website, discussing Jon-Erik's use of flora and fauna in an authentic way. (He is adamant on the 'validation' of artwork.) And as much as I love words and I drink in every subtle nuance of a good paragraph, the fact remains that I think his work is just plain cool. Jon-Erik's work is the ultimate marriage of found object and traditional painting.

As someone who works within boxes, I can honestly say that I admire him for the fact that he thinks completely outside the box not only in the way he lives but in the way he makes art.

florafaunalogical is the title of the show, and it will be at ARTspace from April 6 - May 14, 2011.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Squish A Fish

this is not my fish

I recently took a different kind of printmaking class at the Thames Art Gallery. I have taken many, but this time, the class was structured around gyotaku.

"Gyotaku is the ancient Japanese folk art of painting fish. The first gyotaku were created to preserve the true record and size of species caught by Japanese anglers as far back as 1862."
-official internet blurb.

That's the official blurb. What I called it was "Squish A Fish". And it's a cool process. You take a flattened and dried fish, carefully rub paint over the surface, wipe off the excess, and run it through the press. Once teacher Jon-Erik Kroon explained the history and technique, I was off to the races. I printed the obligatory fish. It looked kind of cool. I could even see the little teeth in the mouth. Cooler still, however, were the treats that Jon-Erik brought in an old leather suitcase.

Having been an artist all his life, Jon-Erik has collected a ridiculous amount of things that always come in handy for an art project. Like a dried bat. Dead birds. Licence plates. Old coins from a shipwreck. Eviscerated frogs. Feathers. Shoe leather from an 1850's era shoe. Alligator skin from an old purse. The top part of a metal spatula. Half of a Spock doll head. And, of course, many different kinds of fish.

Suddenly, I couldn't soak paper fast enough. "Run three prints," he said. "You always get better impressions when you run three prints". I put the Spock head on the dried bat. I ran three of the Spockbats and was thrilled with the results.

"More," I said. I felt like some ravenous beastie.

He cranked the press wheel and smiled. "Try some metal bits", he suggested. "But find some for next class."

I went home and suddenly I saw everything in a different light. Mmmmm. A piece of metal strapping......Could I run it through the press? Hell, yes! I immediately thought of running one of my Muffy dolls through the press, but came to the conclusion that she wouldn't look quite right. More like a bad accident, really. But there were a myriad of possibilities. Squishable items were everywhere, from the Mothership keys to feta cheese.

On the day of my next squishing class, I gathered up the bag of metal scraps I had picked up on the ground at a local wrecking yard, and trotted off to show my treasure to Jon-Erik.

"Good!" he said. "You'll get some interesting prints with those."

And that encouragement was all I needed. Well, actually, that's not true. I still needed Jon-Erik to turn the press for me because my hand hasn't completely recovered (long story, if you don't already know it). But for the next 4 classes, I squished to my heart's content. I had a lot of fun. One of my fellow Squishers had brought in a small octopus she got from Chinatown in Toronto. (One important rule of Squish A Fishing- make sure your item isn't 'juicy'. Sometimes you get unexpected and unpleasantly fragrant results.) It made a wickedly cool print, especially since she added red into the standard black ink. Another Squisher used the alligator skin over and over and over again, enthralled with the ink from previous printings that kept coming through in different patterns.

I now have a stack of interesting prints. One of my favourites features two lizards with their stiff little dead tails curled together into a heart. Any of my prints will make a great background for a collage.

Inspiration from dead fish and scrap metal? You just never know where the next great idea will come from.

Speaking of which, my hand x-rays have me thinking......