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...
another update…

another update…

I am still working away on the paintings for April, while my studio angel, Kitty, works on the 3-D iceberg. These two paintings are almost finished (they’re both 4′ x 6′) and this week I will attack the 8′ x 13′ painting of the St. John’s Harbour. I hope to start painting the 3-D piece next week, and I’m counting my minutes, since I can only work when the building is open. Here is the current state of the...

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