The Tiger Koi

The Tiger KoiOver eight years ago, at the completion of The Autumn Etchings, I stopped making etchings.  I’d made them for 12 straight years and made over 400 images.  I love making them; the ink, the acid, the alchemy of all of it. . .the knowledge that no matter how well you plan, about 20 percent of it is up to the fates.  My etchings were well-collected (and thank you for that).  They are in all of the major museums and led me to places I never thought I would get.

After The Autumn Etchings, I was tired.  I’d made very little one-of-a-kind work during those years and I was more and more curious about combining drawing and collage.  I also felt like maybe my tank was empty.  I needed a break and made myself the quiet deal that when I had something I felt was new to bring to etching, I’d make more.

I can’t count the times in the last few years while making something particularly graphic, I’d thought to myself, “This would make a remarkable etching.”  I began to realize how much I missed it.   Last fall, I made a piece with the peerless Teresa James, with whom I’d worked for ten years and we made a lovely five-color piece called, The Spider Music.

A month ago, I picked up the phone and bought an etching press. . .a Takach.  the only kind I use.  I hired Will Sturgis, a first -rate etching printer and Glenn Hendrick, also a terrific printer, and then Lauren LeVato, a wonderful artist who also does sales and PR and I started Black Shamrock.  So I’m hacking up copper like a banshee and I am one happy Mick.

One of the compelling lures back to etching was visiting Tokyo, a little over a year ago.  Land of Hokusai, Hiroshige, and all of the other Floating World artists who’ve made such magnificent etchings.  Tokyo itself– its odd, other-worldly order and quiet.  Ueno Park, a huge sprawling public green with ravens and storks and cicadas.  The huge koi ponds with monstrous koi, some as old as 225 years, gliding like luminous ghosts in the brackish water.

Koi are primarily carp with a better paint-job; glorious yellows, oranges, golds, pinks and in some cases, iridescent whites, floating in the ponds like ancient apparitions.

I loved standing there and feeding the koi.  At first I gave them “koi food,: which they ate politely enough. The next day I came back with a sack of Big Macs from McDonalds and started tossing them hunks of that and the koi went  bat-shit for those.  Everytime I came near the water they’d put their mouths up to the surface and make slurping noises with more gusto than Jenna Jameson.

One day, the pond-keeper walked up to me and I thought I’d get in trouble for feeding them McDonalds.  I sheepishly said, “I probably shouldn’t be feeding them these burgers.”

He smiled and said, “It’s fine.  They eat shit.  How much worse could those be?”

I realized feeding those koi and sitting in that park that for the first time in a long time, I was happy.  Whatever else was going on in the world around me; it could wait.  Taking a moment or two to marvel at the natural world around you was well worth it.  The respite re-energized me and it was good.

This is a new five-color etching and it is for sale.  The pre-publication price is $1500.00.  In 30 days the price will be $1800.00

It is in an edition of 40.


Published in: on April 8, 2011 at 12:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Hungry Ghost

The Hungry Ghost

When you look into the ponds found in many Japanese parks and shrines there are always koi and carp.  From time to time you’ll spot an almost translucent white carp, an albino of sorts, gliding like an aquatic white ghost.  Japan and Asia, for that matter, are fairly lousy with ghosts.  One of the most haunting spook stories is that of “The Hungry Ghost.”  It pops up in Thai, Chinese and Japanese folk-tales and ghost stories.  It goes that if one has led an unscrupulous life, he, or she, is doomed in the after-life to roam the world as a hungry ghost for 800 years.  The Ghost is said to have a mouth so small that no food can fit in it.  I’ve heard this story, or variants of it, many times.  To wander, hungry, is thought to be the worst of fates.  Perhaps this is because, all over Asia, starvation is a very real-world problem.  In all of these folk-tales and parables, hunger is akin to madness.

Tokyo has made an impression on me.  It is another world that lingers in the imagination long after one returns home.  The ease with which I was able to navigate Tokyo was a surprise to me, as well as the feeling of comfort while wandering that city.  It is good to get away from one’s landscape.  To experience new sights and sounds and ways of living is a great blessing.  I spent years making work about the wonder of my own city and now it is time to let the rest of the world into my work.  I’ve thought long and hard about just what it is I want, and the simple truth of it is, I don’t want much of anything.  I pretty much have what I want.  What I’d like now is to spend my  money and time on experiences rather than “stuff’.”  I want to see more of the world and get out of  my land-locked existence as an American.  We often just see the world through our own myopic scrim and when we view ourselves from another country, our whole picture becomes exponentially more visible.  We wonder why other countries fear and distrust us, but when you view the U.S. from Asia or the U.K., we look awfully big and reckless.  I’m always  curious to know what America means to the rest of the world and very often, we are an enigma to foreigners in their countries.

I’ve never been treated with anything other than kindness when I’ve traveled to other countries.  People are curious about us.  They do tend to think we’re all rich, which is kind of funny, but by and large, most of the people I meet are surprised that Americans are as nice as we are.  Given what they see of our government’s policies, I understand this.

Published in: on October 1, 2009 at 1:24 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Black Carp

The Black Carp

Carp are sacred in Japan.  My friend, Duncan, told me of one that was a gift from a 17th century Emperor.  It lived for 250 years.  They are hardy fuckers; eating and drawing sustenance from all manner of shit, garbage, and aquatic detritus.  Frogs, minnows, paper-bags, pretzels, and any other gunk that falls in the water, all ring the dinner bell for carp.  It is the very definition of a garbage fish, yet they are beautiful and fleet in the water, growing as large as their environment will let them.   They have been a mainstay of Japanese art and literature since the beginning of the written and painted  story.

My dog, Chooch, is kind of like a carp.  He eats whatever falls on the floor.   He was an orphan stray when I got him, eating from the garbage and starving when he was delivered to PAWS.  He is a tough little bastard who found a way to survive, just like a carp.  When lakes get polluted and all over the other fish go tits-up, not the scrappy carp.  In fact they thrive.  Most wildlife agencies consider the carp an “invasive” species meaning they wreck the aquatic neighborhood for the sexier fish like trout and  perch.  In the U.S., carp are considered inedible.  In Asia, they are heavily fished as a food-stuff.  I know guys down south who make carp-balls and swear they’re good.  I guess if you deep-fry anything with enough cornmeal and spices, it will become palatable.
Though a freshwater fish, every once in a while, someone catches one in the ocean.  There are stories of the ever-adaptable carp surviving saltwater.

Goldfish are basically carp, as are koi, which are the pretty carp and highly prized as ornamental accoutrements for ponds in Asia and Europe.  In Europe, fisherman love them because they are an intensely hard fish to hook and once you hook them, you have to fight the fuckers.  They do not go quietly off of this mortal coil.  They live for as long is there is  a steady food supply.  Despite being a universally maligned fish, they are found in the art of almost every culture, including ours.

The MCA in Chicago had a koi pond in their downstairs space.  Years ago, I had my exhibition of the alphabet etchings there and opening day was a family day where every swinging-dick in the city who had kids showed up.  One little boy climbed into the koi fountain and took a shit; much to the delight of the koi and several onlookers.  Nice of the tyke to serve the koi a hot meal.

In Japan, the carp move like a fleet, sad song under the water; drifting to the top when visitors appear to mooch food.  They put their mouths to the very surface and make a sucking sound that is to say the least, disquieting.  They have remarkably amiable personalities and are a whir of indecipherable oranges, browns, blacks and silvery whites.  hey are luminous and sublimely beautiful.

Published in: on September 27, 2009 at 4:37 pm  Leave a Comment  
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