Looking Up for Inspiration

I have been a lithographer for many years, focusing on images of man’s relationship to his environment. This is a vast subject as you can imagine, and artists have been grappling with it for centuries. There is a massive quantity of ideas on this subject in my head and every once in a while, something surprising emerges in artistic form. But an artist always needs a new source of inspiration. Making prints is not always about the topic you have selected. It is most often about how that topic is to be rendered in terms of the unique qualities of the medium in use—ink, paper, roller, etc. If you focus too closely on the meaning you want to convey, the forms, textures and patterns will slip into the background and the work becomes a mere illustration. Manipulating the medium is what printmaking is all about, extracting the essence of the materials of lithography and embedding them into a concrete form.

I don’t want to wax philosophical today in my blog, but rather I want to explain my motivation. I hope you will find this a more interesting approach. It comes from my own milieu in Taipei where I now reside. It is a microcosm of other areas in terms of human endeavor and working the land. Its culture is special to me and I am always exploring new aspects of it, particularly the artisan-made objects—the ones locals use and not those for the tourists. I want to capture its true nature in a series of prints that will form part of a future exhibition in Germany.

I am writing to help me clarify my intention right now. I am taking apart several vintage ceiling fans that I found in an old shop that specializes in furnishings and fixtures from other eras. I confirmed their authenticity as vintage on this web site: https://www.ceilingfanchoice.com/vintage-cottage-antique-ceiling-fan-ideas/. The inventory is absolutely awe inspiring. It is a feast for the artist’s eyes in terms of textures, patterns, colors, shapes, and sizes. The fans I found in no way resemble those of the modern day. They are not shiny and sleek with perfectly stained wood blades. They are not examples of metal work as is the new trend. They reflect a way of doing things from long ago. What I like best is the shape of each blade. I posted photos of them on Facebook and they attracted a lot of likes. The material is woven fiber and the texture is still magnificent.

These elements will form the underlying theme of my composition and dictate how I will alter the lithography process to convey their essence. So much is possible when you look at ordinary and mundane objects and contemplate the genius that went into the original design. You can imitate or otherwise recreate your own version by manipulating aspects of the form and composition. A ceiling fan to me resembles a kind of star with a central focal point and radiating spokes. It is also a bit lie a wheel without a rim but more abstract in nature. The antique fan got me thinking, and while I am not going to be literal and copy it in my print, I will avail myself of the ideas it generates.

Cold is a Novelty

I have a friend in Norway. I met him on an excursion to Spain. We both wanted to bask in the sun on the Costa del Sol and dip our toes in the warm water. We took a train to Granada. It didn’t hurt that we both wanted to see authentic flamenco dancing and eat paella like natives. We write all the time and talk about various odds and ends. Sometimes weird subjects come up. He once asked me, “What do you do when it is too cold outside to smoke?” I laughed out loud. This should be my question for him given our respective locations.

Northern Europe gets very cold; in fact, it is even icy in Spain in January and hotels don’t have heat off season. I have no idea what real cold is like as in Norway. Growing up in Taiwan means balmy weather most of the time. There is no skiing, skating, sledding, cross country hiking in the snow, or ice fishing on a lake. I don’t even want to know because it is all so foreign to me. I have experienced a bit of winter while traveling but it was short term. I will have to get the low down from my friend and other residents of brutal climates. I have never put a cold country on my travel list.

So, Po-Chich, what would you do in such circumstances? What he means is how would I pass the time if he invited me to visit? I don’t even smoke. Ha! The question is moot. I would learn the sports of his country, take walks wearing gloves and a hat, and relish the beautiful snow-laden mountains. I have seen the photos and the scenery is grand. Cold is a novelty and I would enjoy it. I am thankful, however, that I live where I do. My friend smokes occasionally. I have seen him do it in a bar and while waiting outside for a bus. He never indulges in the house as his wife doesn’t put up with it. It is outdoors or nothing, she tells him. Again, I laugh. In answer to his silly inquiry, he answers that he waits for the wind to stop and he resumes his habit on the front porch where he has installed a portable electric heater. I found a web site with more tips, and sent it to him – https://www.nomoresmokesmell.net/cold-outside-smoke/. How clever!

I am going to be congenial and reinterpret his question to focus on what I would do if my life changed and I couldn’t do ordinary things. Would I adapt or give up? I am a strong person, so I confessed to him that I would manage, just as he had done at home. Life is sometimes about compromise and redirection. If you get married and have kids, suddenly everything is different. Smoking is a small issue compared to major life changes. Little did I know that my friend’s question would turn into a philosophical discussion.

Home for a Bit

Type 2 diabetes is a serious disease, but it is a far cry from Type 1 which can be a real killer if it is way out of control. People with it have to take injections of insulin. Most Type 2 do not. I learned this when I returned home for a visit and found out that my dad has this prevalent problem. There are degrees of Type 2 and you need a recurring blood test to assess your progress. The numbers for the typical A1C test are 6.2 for borderline cases. Over 7, you need medication like Januvia, Jardiance, Metformin, or others. The higher you go, the more likely you need insulin or some synthetic form of it. The drugs help lower the numbers by at least a few points. Apparently, my father has been fighting this illness for some time and has developed nerve pain in the feet. This is a common symptom that can be alleviated with medication like Lyrica, and a regular foot massage. Contrary to folklore, you can in fact get a massage according to Higher Massage and it won’t cause further damage. It might be painful, this being the major reason to desist. What you have to be careful of is cutting toenails. Some people have to go to a podiatrist to get it done.

I am happy that my dad can get some relief. I was worried at first about the massage aspect, but it is so beneficial that it is highly recommended by physicians in the field. He can go to a foot spa (they are starting to pop up all over run by Chinese immigrants) or have it done at home by a friend, relative, or professional masseuse who makes house calls. It can get expensive so I have tried to help out by sending some extra funds when I can and asked for help from friends on Facebook. I was happy to see his face and that he has made some improvement; I hope on my next home visit he will look even better. I would do anything to secure an improvement. Most of all, he needs nutrition counseling – and soon. You can lower your A1C they say by avoiding sugar and carbs. We all need to take this advice and it is important for a variety of medical conditions. My dad had a thorough physical and I was pleased to find out that he doesn’t have a heart condition or high blood pressure that would exacerbate the Type 2 diabetes.

I found out in all my research that a foot massage is not just for the infirmed. Everyone can enjoy more stimulation to the circulation and relief from soreness and pain. Tight shoes, standing for hours on end, walking for miles are all reasons to indulge now and then. I can see that many people want to do it regularly. I know that you can supplement visits to your health spa with a portable home unit. They come in all sizes and shapes with attachments that can address every area of the foot. Sounds great to me!

A New Inspiration

As a lithographer looking for interesting subjects, the world is my oyster although I have chosen to encircle a particular area in the far east. All you need is an artist’s eye and the right location. For me it is Taipei, the land in which I was born. A big undertaking for me is my on-going series on the Anthropocene Era: Man and his Links to his Environment. I have learned so much in the process, some of which I will share with you over time. Right now, I am exploring a suite of gold miners as a novel take on the subject. It is my new inspiration and a topic of inquiry and research. I have a conception of what I want to show, but it needs rounding out with more authentic details. All the knowledge I gain will go into the imagery. It will therefore be authentic and historically correct.

Old photographs are enormously helpful. I have amassed many from the California Gold Rush era from the mid-19th century when the state was a Mexican province (yes there was the Klondike and Australian versions). It is the most famous historical example and offers me great visual resources. I already see in my mind’s eye the sturdy prospectors wearing work clothes with rolled up sleeves and squashed hats carrying picks and shovels at the mining camps. They are all wearing heavy work boots that have seen better times. There is a mule named Sal by their side carrying a heavy load of other equipment and supplies in pouch-like bags. In another daydream, I see a miner bent over a stream looking at a gold sluice. Another is panning by his side. They were the two methods of choice. I can do a replica of this image but I found myself interested in knowing more about this strange device about which I knew nothing at all, which is when I stumbled upon https://www.findingafortune.net/best-gold-panning-kits-and-gold-sluice-reviews/.

A sluice is a simple, rather primitive item. Basically, it is a long, narrow box through which stream water passes. During the Gold Rush, they were made of wood and had to be operated by hand. Modern versions are plastic or aluminum. The sluice in any form is used to trap gold by means of gravity. The miner wants the dirt and rocks to separate from the precious metal. The heavy nuggets should stay at the bottom of the sluice. To be effective, every sluice had to be inserted in the creek at the proper angle. Otherwise it is difficult to snare finer gold. If you have gold fever like the olden days, you can find more on Facebook. But I will limit my interest in creating lithographs.

You have insight into my new work and are the first to know the subject. I have shown in galleries and will offer new prints shortly. I love the exposure and appreciation. I enjoy winning new fans who appreciate a traditional technique.

Expanding My Portfolio

It is not surprising that a person who loves adventure and travel would enjoy learning new things from time to time. I am never opposed to expanding my skills beyond my printmaking techniques. They have always been a priority concern. There is so much out there and every encounter can be an exciting challenge. As a result of a bit of excess time and energy, I have taken up welding as an adjunct hobby. It is not surprising since I have a friend who plies his trade at metal sculpting. His work is excellent and I have admired it for a long time. I used to ask him about how he does it and he recently wondered why I don’t try my hand at it. It is fun and useful given the many applications of the process. Plain old steel becomes a blank canvas for invention in effect. It just takes some time and motivation, and I have plenty of that. If you are a type who tinkers and likes to fabricate, this is for you…and me.

I have no unreachable ambitions as welding is a delicate art, involving a balance between heat, filler rod and puddle control, but I do expect to master the basics right off the bat. I am not modest about my ability to absorb and organize information. After many sessions with my friend, here is what I learned from the Rate My Welder beginner’s guide):

  1. Buy, rent, or borrow appropriate equipment. Get consumer grade at a reasonable price. Find a place to store it.
  2. Understand the parameters of your project, measure and prepare the pieces, cut them and tack the items to be welded on your workshop floor. Tacking is a series of small welds.
  3. Start welding only when the tacking is sufficient to hold the metal parts together. Assemble all parts. Use both hands to hold the welding gun.
  4. Trimming or coping is next to smooth the parts edges so they fit more closely. Use a plasma cutter, grinder, or hacksaw.
  5. Practice puddle control. Note that welding uses a heat source to melt the edges of your special pieces and a filler rod into one molten puddle.
  6. Learn the different types of welding such as wire feed, TIG, MIG, and stick.
    1. Wire feed: a spool of hollow, flux-cored wire feeds automatically. Best technique for beginners and work outdoors.
    2. TIG welding: this means tungsten Inert gas. The machine uses a nonsummable electrode to strike the arc and produce a molten metal puddle. It also uses a filler rod.
    3. MIG welding: this metal inert gas type uses a solid-core filler wire surrounded with an inert gas like CO2 or argon. It produces a slag-free weld, perfect for aluminum or stainless steel.
    4. Stick welding: the puddle is melted by a flux-coated metal electrode, useful for thicker pieces. It takes considerable practice.

There you have a basic guide in a nutshell!

Mending Fences

I have everything in my studio that I need to make prints. I am by trade a fine art lithographer. I have invested a lot of money in inks, paper, and presses. I want to safeguard my wares from vandalism and theft. I have had some minor break-ins in the past and therefore I must keep my fence is good order. It recently needed some repair and I had to borrow a circular saw to cut individual pieces that would fit together with what is already there. It is the perfect tool for such a small job. The problem is, I don’t really know how to use it. I have studied all the Youtube videos (like everyone else). What would we do without them? They explain just about everything there is.

Construction and woodworking tools require knowledge and skill. First you must understand the implement itself. It takes some acquaintance with specific terminology. For example, the review of my saw indicates that it cuts at a 90 degree angle and has a powerful 8.0 AMP motor for fast cutting action. The blade-left design is noteworthy and improves the visibility of the cutting line. Furthermore, it is lightweight at a mere six pounds, allowing for maximum maneuverability. It also has an electric brake which helps productivity. What’s more, the lock-off button will eliminate accidental starts. You can’t underestimate the value of this feature. The review on WoodworkNation.com goes on to mention a shaft lock for fast blade changes and the fact that the circular saw is double insulated. The blade is super important and is an 18T carbide tipped one. This is all you need to know before you begin to learn to operate the unit.

I follow the lead of the experts in videos. I like to see visually what needs to be done as opposed to reading printed directions with sketchy diagrams. I didn’t find a video of the particular job I need to execute, but after a dozen of them, I think I can adapt the tool to my needs. I suppose I could ask for help from a friend or neighbor, but I fancy myself as a potential do-it-yourselfer. I like to be self-sufficient about most things. That’s how I learned to make prints—trial and error.

After mending the fence, which took longer than I thought, I felt better about any break-ins to come. The fence will deter intruders, plus I have a series of locks on the door. I hate that feeling of violation you get when you experience a robbery. I know people aren’t looking for print-making materials but TVs, laptops, and money. I do keep a laptop and a tablet on hand in my studio so I can refer to some ideas that I have stored. I would be hard pressed to pursue my craft without them. I must protect my gear at all costs. If it means learning how to use a power tool such as a circular so, well so be it. I am willing to put in the time and effort.

Practice Makes You Better

Soccer is a preferred game worldwide. Fan mania extends to every corner of the globe as far as Taipei. I can attest to this fact. I have been studying and practicing techniques myself for some time. At its best, the sport is an art form that requires certain drills. Coaches and players differ as to what is best and they compare notes on new programs as compared to the old school style. I believe that just because something is new doesn’t make it better. Sometimes newness for its own sake is not that beneficial. Why throw the baby out with the bath water. There are some warm-up routines, for example, that are just as good today as they were in the last century. That does seem so long ago, but we are still using the old regimen in some countries today.

Of course, the point is to do something on a regular basis to keep in shape and to hone your skill for playing competitively. You also have to have the desire to win first and foremost and the motivation to do your best. The practicing exercises at https://www.topcornermag.com/best-soccer-drills-practice-skill-building/ are there to remind you of the basics and what it feels like to do something right. You will find out what is going wrong and how to fix any weak areas. Without a rehearsal, in effect, you will never master your craft.

It is all about leg action, accuracy and speed. You have to be on your toes—not literally. As coaches always say, keep your eye on the ball. Don’t get distracted or lost in the clouds. Don’t give up too soon. Soccer is not a big scoring game so it doesn’t have last second feats a lot of the time like football. It can be just as exciting, however. I can’t stress enough the importance of developing skills in practice. Exercises that strengthen the legs and produce stronger kicks are desirable. You can learn how to place your foot just right on the ball. When starting out, it is all about exposure to the best techniques around. Read up on what the professionals like and emulate their moves. Watch videos with fellow players and/or the coach and you will surely improve.

Your team will no doubt have a set of various practice plans, and some are designed for kids. As you know, the youth of today are obsessed with the game. If you are a pro, you might want to coach the on the side. For regular players, the rules are simple. But they are essential for milking talent potential. They help you understand strategy from inside out. Coaching is a true craft that takes expertise. Those who know old and new regimens will have a greater selection of techniques. What has worked in the past no doubt will be useful in the present. It is usually a framework for achievement and a lot of thought has gone into it. As one famous coach told me, you want to blend competencies, cognition and character to succeed on the field.

PO-Chich Gets Inspired.

In my travels around Europe, I have spoken with many people who are concerned about the pollution of the planet. It is a global problem now and each nation must face its own challenges.

I was born in Taipei, the capital city of Taiwan. We have undergone three decades of industrial expansion in Taiwan so our tiny island has many more problems with pollution than formerly. Perhaps this is why I decided to explore Europe, to see how the great cities are dealing with the issues of the Anthropocene Era, especially since the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that was held in Paris last year.

Many people, including myself, were inspired by the outcome of that conference. I’ve no doubt that the French are extremely proud that L’Accord de Paris was signed within the borders of France. The nations of the world have agreed to keep global warming to below 2° Centigrade. Yes, L’Accord de Paris has given me hope and it has given me inspiration as an artist too.

One idea that has emerged from pondering the global agreement to lower the levels of pollution is to create screen-prints of the automobiles from companies such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi; these cars create high levels of diesel emissions. The cars would be parked under shady green trees, such as the beautiful Linden tree of Germany, or near some other beautiful plants such as the Poppy from Holland or some beautiful French roses. The idea is to show that these natural symbols that lift the heart of the German, the Dutch and the French, are under threat from air pollution.

I would like to develop my ideas further around the themes of nature and pollution, or things of beauty and pollution. I must admit to myself that cars and planes, which are methods of transport and travel, are things of beauty. Airplanes, although they give off large amounts of carbon dioxide that are very damaging to the ozone layer, are the end result of much engineering and research. Even the emotion of yearning is part of the development of vehicles of transport.

My ideas are changing now. I feel that it is important not to blame industrialists and car manufacturers too much. When the airplane was invented it was a gift to humans to be able to fly like a bird and that is still the case. Expensive cars such as the Mercedes-Benz were high-quality autos that were the result of good engineering. What I mean to say is, by developing and manufacturing airplanes and autos, the intention was not to harm but to help.

With these thoughts in mind, I feel that I must stimulate the emotion of yearning in the hearts and minds of the big industrialists. Surely they yearn to be part of new developments just as they have been part of the previous developments. Perhaps I can become a kind of inventor myself … I will draw a futuristic machine and call it the Clean, Green Anti-Pollution Machine. Yes, that’s it; I can look at diagrams of engines and then re-draw them so that their ingenuity is apparent, then add some changes or distortions and call it The Marvelous Anti-Pollution Monster Machine … or … The Transporter.

Artists Who Inspire Po-Chich.

My life is so exciting now that I am sharing a studio with Gunther Hartzog. I hope that Gunther is as happy as I am. I have spoken with him about my work as a lithographer whose work celebrates the link between Man and his environment. We don’t see eye to eye about everything but that doesn’t matter; our discussions have been very fruitful – I think for both of us.

Our dialogues have opened me up to new ideas and concepts and I’m trying to develop some works which celebrate Machines of Travel and Earth’s Environment. Maybe I will focus on the Traveller’s Eye as he or she moves from the airport or the railway station back into the natural environment.

Gunther and I have discussed the works of some of the contemporary environmental artists. We are both modernists in the broad sense, although Gunther is obsessed at the moment with creating social change through painting, somewhat in the manner of Manolo Valdes.

We both admire Pedro Reyes whose work almost seems to follow in a line of succession from the work of Joseph Beuys. Reyes aims to increase our sense of “agency” or the feeling that we do have the power to creatively change society. He invents playful answers to the big questions. For example, in Reyes’ work, guns are turned into musical instruments.

We also admire Agnes Denes whose artist statement reads, in part “Making art today is synonymous with assuming responsibility for our fellow humans.” I believe that artists have always been socially aware, perhaps more so than others. There has been some debate as to whether representational art demonstrates a political awareness; I feel that to depict something in realistic terms is an act of respect, love and celebration, therefore, I believe that representational art is as worthy of esteem as more abstract works are.

Agnes Denes most well-known work is probably “Wheatfield, a Confrontation, Battery Park Landfill, Downtown Manhattan, Two Acres of Wheat Planted and Harvested Summer 1982.” Denes has said this large-scale work was put in place to “Remind people to rethink their priorities.” Such a fantastic work of conceptual art does integrate some of the ideas I’m mulling over, because it celebrates man’s link to the environment, albeit in a rather pointed manner.

One other truly sensational conceptual art work is NazihaMestaoui’s “One Beat, One Tree.” Viewers of this work connect to it by a smartphone. As the Virtual Forest is projected over the skyline of a big city, the trees grow in time with every heartbeat. A real tree is planted for every virtual tree that is seen. I must admit to being overawed by the broad-thinking conceptualism of this piece.

It’s good to know though that I am not alone in my desire to celebrate man’s links to the environment. There are many artists practicing in the world today who are called Green Artists. Artists have always been at the forefront when there is a need for change, or when a big change is taking place. Right now, working here in a studio I share with Gunther Hartzog a German abstract artist, I feel very fulfilled and I hope to produce some really cutting edge art for the Anthropocene Era.

The Collaboration Between Gunther Hartzog and Po-Chich.

Gunther and I are working in a studio together. We are not always there at the same time, as Gunther must attend classes at the Fine Arts College. When we are together we have some long conversations about our work and about the visual arts as a whole. We both still believe that art can change lives. We have spoken quite a bit about the various movements within the visual arts and how the schools of thought have kept pace with the changing times, if not been far ahead of them.

I told Gunther that I would have loved to be alive during Les Années Folles, the Crazy Years, in Paris, just after WWI. This was the period when the great artists and intellectuals were drawn to Montparnasse on the Left Bank of Paris. It was such a time of artistic discovery and foment. I don’t believe there has even been such a time since then when the streets, the cafés and the studios were bustling with artists of high inspiration. Picasso, Miro, Apollinaire, Cocteau, Satie, Chagall, Jean Rhys, Joyce, Hemingway, and Modigliani … the list is so much longer than this.

I think that’s why I wanted to share a studio. Artists inspire each other and drive each other forward to new discoveries. It’s good to work in a creative atmosphere. I’m sure that I will do good work here. Gunther has told me that he is most inspired by the artist Joseph Beuys. Beuys was a performance artist who believed “Everyone is an artist.” His most famous performances may have been “How I Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare” and “I Like America and America Likes Me.” Gunther is able to borrow copies of some of Beuys works from the Störrer Collection that is held in the Hessiches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt.

We have spent some evenings looking at Beuys work and discussing it. Joseph Beuys was an artist who celebrated the ordinary person. He believed that everyone is creative and can have some influence on society. After these evenings with Gunther I am trying to integrate some of Beuys ideas into my new works.

I want to restate some earlier ideas about the machines of travel, such as airplanes and cars. Even though these machines pollute our environment, in many ways they are beautiful, they are perfect machines. Not only this but these vehicles incorporate humans’ yearning to travel, to fly and to move forward at a pace that is faster than walking.

We are living in the Anthropocene Era when humans are having a greater effect on their environment than ever before. This “effect” is largely seen as a “bad effect” but I would like to find something to celebrate about cars and airplanes. I would like to reclaim the ingenuity and inspiration that inventors of cars and ‘planes must have felt. The very idea of flying was once seen as nonsensical, but now it is an everyday occurrence.

I am going to claim a kind of Beuys-ian creativity for the manufacturers of ‘planes and cars. After all, these gigantic machines have helped humans to celebrate the environment by being able to move around in it at speeds of up to 550 miles per hour. That is something to respect and celebrate.