Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

Printing Kafka’s ‘Great Wall of China’

1. In the beginning… I have been working on an artist book of Kafka’s short story ‘The Great Wall of China’ for over a year. 2016 was the 30th anniversary of my return from a year teaching English in Chongqing, Sichuan; 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the creation of Kafka’s story, although it wasn’t published until 1931, after his death. The project has been a somewhat surreal endeavour at a time when the news was full of Donald Trump’s promise to build a wall along the southern border of the US, to make the Mexican government pay for it, to deport undocumented workers, and to ban Muslims. Kafka’s story seems eerily contemporary. In the story, a half-century before the wall is started word is spread through the country that people should train as architects and masons for the future. When the work is started, it is built in sections that aren’t connected – when one section is completed the group of workers is moved to a distant place to start another section. The populace is made afraid of invaders and distracted with preventing their arrival, keeping the nation unified by focussing on a defensive project. I was delighted to get permission from Ian Johnston to use his translation, and from Vihanga Perera to use an essay he had written about the story. The text was sent to Michael and Winifred Bixler to cast new type. Duncan Major agreed to create linocut illustrations, and the wheels were rolling! I wanted to use Chinese paper and a Chinese structure for the story. After testing several sheets, Duncan and I decided the double xuan paper seemed best. It had a bit...
Artistic License

Artistic License

  This painting is finished. The photograph I used as reference had an iceberg in it, and when I started painting, I intended to include the iceberg, but move it forward in the composition. I was focussed on the iceberg, although it was only a small part of the image. Hmmm. My struggle is almost always to stick with my “Less is More” philosophy, to pay attention to the image as it gets its own voice, and be willing to let go of my original plan. To find the perfect balance between what I think I’m doing and what the painting becomes. This painting doesn’t need the iceberg. The omission can be called Artistic License, but  I don’t think it’s my decision. It’s looking at the painting and realizing it doesn’t need what I thought I wanted to include. I think the creative process flows like a river, and my job is to jump in and become part of the flow. Not to struggle to keep my head above water, but to submit to the current and be in the process, pay attention but be detached enough to hear when the painting says, “enough.” I think writers, musicians, golfers, chess players, salmon fishers, race car drivers and more find a similar groove when they do what they do well. Be attentive and adjust constantly but don’t grasp too tightly. Stay in the flow. Some days are better than others. There is always anxiety at the beginning, my brain telling me I don’t know what I’m doing,  I’m not working fast enough, not sticking with the plan, or I could totally screw up. Lose a day’s (or...
on the table this week…

on the table this week…

My studio has been filled with paper- Duncan printing my annual calendar page and the two of us madly assembling copies of Notes (toward a poem about play) by Don Austin, published by Running the Goat. The launch was last night, so today I can move on to painting. I’ll be trying to finish a few more icebergs before I leave to visit my dad for the holidays. The text is a prose poem about play, so I designed it to be read as a codex that unfolds into a game board. It has been four and a half years in the making, due to technical difficulties you don’t want to know about. The text was set and letterpress printed at Running the Goat, the game board was screen printed at Living Planet in St. John’s. The boards are hinged in pairs, then the text pages are glued on. Then those boards are hinged in pairs, and the first sections of the game board are glued on. Last, the two four-board sections are hinged, and the last game board section glued on. Now that we have completed 20+ (the edition is 90), we have a system, and there’s a little less paranoia about gluing something backwards or upside down. I still won’t push it- better to stop when the focus wanes and not screw anything up! If you want to know more about this project, see...

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