Episode 324: Anders Nilsen

November 15, 2011 · Print This Article

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This week: Richard and Duncan talk with Anders Nilsen.

Anders Nilsen was born in northern New Hampshire in 1973. He grew up splitting his time between the mountains of New England and the streets and parks of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He was weaned on a steady diet of comics, stories and art, from Tintin and the X-Men to Raw, Weirdo, punk rock, zines, graffiti and regular trips to art museums.

Nilsen studied painting and installation art at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, also making comics and zines mostly outside class. In 1999 he started photocopying strips from his sketchbooks, self-publishing them as Big Questions #1 and #2. That same year he moved to Chicago to do graduate work at the School of the Art Institute. In 2000 he turned an artists book he’d done in undergrad into his first properly printed book, The Ballad of the Two Headed Boy, with a grant from the Xeric Foundation. The same year he took advantage of an offset lithography class at the Art Institute to print the third issue of Big Questions, with all original material. In 2000 he dropped out of graduate school to do comics on his own. He received grants from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs to publish the next three issues of Big Questions.

Anders’ comics have been translated into a number of languages. He has exhibited his drawing and painting internationally and had his work anthologized in Kramer’s Ergot, Mome, The Yale Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Best American Comics and Best American Non-Required Reading, as well as The Believer, the Chicago Reader and elsewhere. Other titles by Nilsen include Dogs And Water, Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow, Monologues for the Coming Plague, Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes, and The End #1.

Nilsen keeps a blog at themonologuist.blogspot.com where he posts occasional new work, and a website with examples of past work and various illustration he’s done at andersbrekhusnilsen.com.

He currently lives with his cat in Chicago, Il.

Anders Nilsen also received Ignatz Nominations for Outstanding Artist for Big Questions #7 & #8, Outstanding Series (Big Questions), and Outstanding Comic (Big Questions #7) at the 2006 Small Press Expo. Dogs and Water won an Ignatz for Outstanding Story in 2005, and his graphic memoir Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow won an Ignatz for Outstanding Graphic Novel in 2007.




A Testy Medium : An Interview with Jason Dunda

March 23, 2011 · Print This Article

"The Most Beautiful Duck Blind in the World," 2011. 9" x 12 1/2" Gouache and graphite on paper

Jason Dunda’s work is impeccable. Each mark he lays down is precise, predetermined and, really, perfect. He paints wood grains, anthropomorphic hummocks, death chairs and wheelbarrows. Over the course of our friendship, I have remained intensely interested in his process, both as curator, as artist and publisher. In part my fascination stems from a sense that his work is a testament to the impossible. He paints towers that could not stand up, even if they appear to have structural integrity. Or, in another instance a fabricated tree made of smaller pieces of wood, appears to be trying to hang out with “real” trees; the fake tree obviously fails, yet it is also more interesting as a tree and diminishes the others which fade into the background. All of these pieces are made in gouache and a couple of years ago Jason told me he was going to start making giant, wall-length works. He was making them for a show in Dubai. He would ship them in giant, construction-site-sized tubes. It was all planned out. He was excited, I couldn’t wait to see how it worked and I realized as I went home there were so many impossible things in that equation: first off, you can hardly breathe on gouache without leaving a mark. Secondly, Dubai is a massive massive distance. Thirdly, the city itself sounds like a cartoon, a monument to human enterprise in impossible conditions: I’ve heard, for instance, it boasts a building with a ski hill. It’s all impossible and, for that reason, amazing. But all this strikes me as a perfect metaphor for what it means to create work in the first place. There is an idea that making work supplies a certain posterity. It is a vehicle to outlast one’s own lifespan. Despite the ageless popularity of this idea, the life of a painting is full of hazard. Historic works get lost on boats, burned in fires—you name it. It’s remarkable that anything stands the test of time. Dunda’s work faces off with that issue. His paintings are materialistically vulnerable, capable of reflecting our own existential fears. Thankfully, each one has a sense of humor about itself—what’s even more remarkable give the precision and time the work demands.

"The Most Beautiful Electric Chair in the World (Comfy Chair Proposal)," gouache on paper, 2010, 8" x 9"

Caroline Picard: Can you talk a little bit about gouache? When and why did you start working with it as a primary medium? What is most difficult about it and how do those challenges complement your own artistic goals?

Jason Dunda: Gouache is a very opaque type of watercolour.  It’s been used in the past in design and animation—any backgrounds in pre-digital age cartoons are probably painted with gouache.  I began using it about five years ago to make some quick works on paper to help me compose my oil paintings.  I ended up enjoying my experiments in gouache a little too much and my work on paper became the central focus of my studio practice.  Gouache isn’t the most spontaneous medium—just like watercolour, once it’s down on the paper there’s no changing it so you have to be very confident and sure of what you’re doing when you’re working with it.  The paint is also very matte and chalky—a quality I love—so if you lay it down too thick it cracks and/or dries very inconsistently and looks horrible.  Basically, it’s a very delicate and precise material to work with.  I often approach my work with a cautious delicacy and I really like to master a medium so I like the challenge.

CP: How do you choose your color palate? Do you mix colors before starting a piece?

JD: I mostly paint images of wooden objects, so I have a lot of yellows and earths but I mix it up with the occasional dull turquoise or cool grey here and there.  Because my subject matter is pretty consistent, I’ve been able to develop a central colour palette over the last few years.  There’s a couple dozen colours I work with regularly and I’m constantly adding to it and changing it.  I choose and modify the colours in order to have a wide range of contrasts in temperature and value but maintain a limited, harmonious intensity.  The colours are pretty dull and work well with the colour of paper I choose a ground for most of my paintings.

CP: That leads me to another question about the way you make a piece. As I understand it, and partly because gouache so fussy, you plan out a painting before sitting down to paint it. Will you talk about what that process is like and how your foreseen vision matches its end result? How do you translate an idea into a visual structure? Does the idea occur visually in your mind’s eye? Or do you execute a kind of transcription, translating the idea into a visual language?

JD: That’s a great and huge question and I’ll try to answer it as best I can.  I do a lot of research—both visual and academic—and do a lot of really quick messy image-making when I plan out a piece.  So yes, there’s definitely a translation that occurs.  The initial image in my head almost never turns out to be the end result and I think that’s a good thing.  Filtering thought through imagery and materials is a tricky thing and needs a lot of fine tuning if it’s going to work.

"The Most Beautiful Mixed-Use Devotional Sentry Tower in the World," 2010, 9" x 11 1/2" Gouache and graphite on paper

CP: Do you ever run into limitations within your visual language?

JD: Some days I feel there’s nothing but limitations.  You can interchange ‘limitations’ with ‘structure,’ though, and in that sense it creates possibilities and propels my thinking and making.  When I’m feeling particularly limited, though, I’ll declare to myself that my day in the studio is going to be different from the usual—I’ll spend the day with the expectation that I’ll have no usable material results and all I’ll do is experiment.  I’ve recently gone back to oil painting partly for this reason.  I can mess around and translate my ideas into a different set of materials.  My new oil paintings are really terrible.

CP: How do you anticipate scale?

JD: I never go bigger than my apartment door.  I learned that the hard way, seriously.  Scale occurs to me most profoundly as the relationship between the viewer and the piece.  There’s a sense of intimacy and humbleness in small works and a more aggressive, public presence in large scale works.  I tend to go to the extremes of this spectrum.  Gouache is a really difficult material to work with in large scale— the surface can be really inconsistent over larger areas—so there’s a particular challenge I like about large-scale gouache paintings.  I love antagonizing the intended use of a material.

CP: Sometimes you create sculptures as well—what I feel is like an almost traumatic transition, to move from a single-dimension surface to a three-dimensional physicality. When do you chose to work in three-dimensions? What is it about a given idea that moves you to break (if you’ll grant me this) a kind of third-wall of the art object?

JD: I’ll certainly grant you that and I think you’ve got it absolutely right.  The tangibility of an object is really different from the illusion of form and space in painting and that’s what led me to make the first and so far only object I’ve ever made for exhibition.  It’s that trauma as you call it—that fight between the illusory and the tangible that I wanted to conjure up when I used a large-scale painting as a sort of backdrop for an object.  I paired a painting of a dilapidated pulpit with a fancy wheelbarrow I custom built and had upholstered.  I used the opposition of image and object to highlight certain elements of my ideas—the conflation of the utilitarian and the ceremonial and a parody of cultural structures.

CP: What is your experience of surface?

JD: Surface and I get along very well.  No matter the medium or imagery of the project, my work over the past several years relies upon a thorough consideration of surface.  Because I’m a painting dork, I have to learn everything possible about the materials I’m working with.  I have a tremendous amount of patience when experimenting with materials and it’s really important to me to show a certain amount of that mastery in the work I make.  I also think that it’s really important to me use the materials in the wrong way but still make it look good.  Most of my oil paintings look like they’re painted on some kind of plastic but it’s a concoction of walnut oil and wax.  Similarly, my big gouache paintings involve a process of staining nine-foot tall pieces of paper in order to transform its colour and surface.  I know when a surface is working when another painter can’t figure out how I’ve done it.

CP: Recently we’ve had conversations about how you feel somewhat restricted by the predetermined nature of your current approach. Do you feel like that sense has to do with gouache? Or perhaps a shift in what you want to get from of an act of painting?

JD: Both, definitely.  I think the busy work of planning, testing, and preparing when using gouache forces me to slow down and think a lot more while making.  This can be a great thing or a very bad thing – I’ve felt stuck many times recently because the next move I need to make presents such a risk, but then again there’s something very satisfying about meticulously constructing an idea while I meticulously construct a piece.  So yes, I want to get something different out of the process of painting but I’m not ready to quit gouache.  Ideally, I’d like to get reacquainted with oil paint while continuing the trajectory of my gouache paintings.  There’s something very interesting to me about working across media and showing the results together.  Incidentally, I’ve done a couple of oil paintings recently and they’re really awful.  It’s like I’ve never picked up a brush before and I really haven’t got a clue.

CP: Although this wasn’t my first thought in relating to your work, there was a certain point that I suddenly made a connection between your paintings and cartoons/comic books. Could you talk a little bit about that relationship?

JD: Oh man.  Well, it’s no secret that I’m a comic book and cartoon dork and have been since I bought a copy of The Incredible Hulk #238 after a swimming lesson in 1978.  About ten years ago I began incorporating a linear, graphic approach into my work and I thought it was really successful.  I’ve gone back and forth between painterly and graphic over the years and I find the most satisfying paintings to me are the ones that balance those two qualities.  The thing that’s most interesting to me about the aesthetics of comics is colour related to surface.  Today, comics are printed on super glossy paper and computer coloured and it’s spectacular but it’s not what I was immersed in visually as I was growing up.  Comics used to be printed on a pretty low-grade paper and the ink would just sink in to that surface.  The quality of colour in my work is directly related to this effect.   I mix colours that are relatively dull and I often make the contrast between the paint and the colour of the paper pretty low.  It’s a nostalgia thing for me that’s turned into a subtle narrative choice.  Right now I’d define my work as being less cartoony and more graphic—I’m looking at Disney all the time but it’s in concert with Ukiyo-e prints, illuminated manuscripts, and early Renaissance painting.

"The Most Beautiful Effigy in the World gouache on paper," 2010, 10" x 14"

CP: I suppose in some way, I think it’s really interesting because cartoons tend to undo a certain gravitas that is pervasive in the rest of the world. Wylie Coyote falls off ten thousand cliffs with comedic survival. Superheroes are constantly being resurrected and, by virtue of that resurrection, become even greater. What I find interesting is that painting affords its own gravitas. The weight of its canon, for instance, or the way that (at least when I was in art school,) people always ask why something is painted rather than being photographed or manifested more directly. I just wonder what happens for you, when you start to incorporate that cartoon language as a stylistic tool? Particularly when, as in the gallows for instance, you’re painting “serious” objects, while also employing very technical strategies —there is still a palpable sense of humor…

JD: Wow, that’s a mouthful but you’ve hit the nail on the head.  There’s a sense of detachment both in my work and in comics and cartoons.  In comics it’s a result of these adolescent power fantasies (among other things) and in my work it’s an impulse to not be so heavy-handed in my politics.  I’m not nearly  informed enough to make specific social or political statements, so I’m not interested in resolving anything.  Instead, I want to imply a narrative that embodies a particular and often fucked up set of social values.  Hence the gallows that can double as a vaudeville stage set or a sentry tower with a quaint aluminum awning.  I’ve always thought the images that I make in gouache are the evidence of some other civilization that exists parallel to our own—parallel universe narratives in sci-fi are also a current love of mine.  In my world, though, instead of granting wild canines the ability to mail-order anvils I simply gussy up the instruments of control.  Either way, it’s a happy place in which you don’t quite notice how desperate the situation is.

Jason Dunda has a show coming up with Laura Davis called “Lock the Doors.”

Slow
Opening reception, Saturday, April 2, 6-9pm
2153 W 21st Street
Chicago, IL




Al Williamson 1931 – 2010

June 21, 2010 · Print This Article

Williamson_Flash_Study_small

Flash Study by Al Williamson

Time like Ming the Merciless, tyrant of the doomed planet Mongo, catches up with everyone and not even Flash Gordon can rescue you from it’s clutches. Al Williamson the Artist that helped bring more comic characters to fame then you can count passed away Saturday June 12th in upstate New York, his wife, Cori, recently released. He was 79.

Williamson the milti award, two time Eisner award winner (1996, 1997) worked from the 1950′s steadily till his retirement in 1999 illustrating everything from Flash Gordon to Secret Agent Corrigan to what personally was my first comic his work bringing Luke Skywalker to the illustrated page. If Williamson wasn’t making some of the best penciling even before there were such companies as Marvel or DC Comics he was inking the work of other great artists like Jack Kirby. While other artists were thinking about shadow, volume and representing the human figure in dramatic 2d space (even Kirby who’s early work when compared to Williamson is dramatically different) Al Williamson was executing that with unparalleled skill and complex sensitivity.

“He was one of the more sublimely talented artists to work in mainstream comics, His men were handsome, his women were beautiful, and the landscapes he drew — alien or westerns or battlefields — always seemed lushly authentic. He made panels you could lose yourself in.”

said Tom Spurgeon, editor of the online magazine Comics Reporter.

Alfonso Williamson born March 21, 1931 in Manhattan, one of two children of Sally and Alfonso Williamson. His Scottish father, was a citizen of Colombia, and soon after his son was born the family moved to Bogotá.

At the age of 9, his mother took him to his first movies which he saw a chapter in the “Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe” serial, was sold and immediately started sketching scenes from memory when he got home.

The family returned to New York when Alfonso was 13. He took classes at the School of Visual Arts (then called Cartoonists and Illustrators School in Manhattan), and was later hired by EC Comics.

Mr. Williamson’s first wife, the former Arlene Sattler, died in 1977. In addition to his wife of 32 years, the former Cori Pasquier, he is survived by his sister, Liliana Gonzalez Williamson; a daughter, Valerie Lalor; and a son, Victor.

Al Williamson was a pioneer in countless ways in defining comics as we know them today and will be greatly missed.




Nate Powell’s PLEASE RELEASE

November 12, 2009 · Print This Article

I honestly can say that I never thought I would find a comic (graphic novel? whatever) that felt so close to my own life. Nate Powell‘s book, Please Release, is a collection of four stories created between 2002 and 2005 in Arkansas, Rhode Island, Florida and Indiana.

The first story, The Phantom Form, was captivating to me. You become aware of his job (direct support for adults with developmental disabilities) and his politics (radical) immediately. He speaks very eloquently about “debasing power dynamics” in his work, and lack of privacy as well as trust with the adults he works with. There is a wistful cast to the whole book, and the pages seem very much alive with various music lyrics that flow through the panels.

Punk romanticism and the sentimentality of a transient lifestyle are captured, as well as an intense melancholy. Powell illustrates his interactions with adults with developmental disabilities with honesty, respect, and subtlety that I don’t think I’ve ever seem before, especially in comic form. In the third story, Work At It, there are almost two pages depicting Powell and a man that he works with staring at each other while they’re taking a walk. One panel depicts the two men as muscle and bones, two humans with the same structure looking at each other, and then they are shown back in their clothes, back in the dynamic of care provider and incompetent person.

Full disclosure- I work as an art instructor for adults with developmental and cognitive disabilities who are Deaf or Deaf and blind. This could be a large reason why I devoured this book and promptly ordered his previous work on Amazon. But I firmly believe that the stories are honest and lyrical in a way that isn’t hokey, and that Powell has an intense understanding of his craft, the illustrations, flow, and dialogue in the book are fantastic.




Artist Mark Staff Brandl’s Work Disapears From Exhibit

February 8, 2009 · Print This Article


Chicago artist Mark Staff Brandl’s traveling art exhibition “Out of Sequence” which was most recently opened at the Belmar Laboratory of Art and Ideas museum near Denver, Colorado is now almost out of art. One of the key works which was of a standard comic book spinning rack with 31 hand panted works sitting in the slots had 26 of which stolen during the opening night festivities. 12 of which have since been returned but 14 are still lost. More can be read and followed on at the post on Sharkforum.

Good thing the show didn’t open on May 2nd or it could have been worse.