MUNAE National Print Museum in Mexico City

Mexico City is a must-see for artists. I just returned from eight days of exploring this buzzing metropolis of 25 million people and I can’t wait to return. Thanks to visits to the National Anthropological Museum, the Banamex Collection, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo’s studio, the Tamayo Museum, the MUNAE National Print Museum, and a night at the Mexican ballet, I got an ultra stimulating art fix.

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MUNAE is located in the historical centre of Mexico City, in the Plaza de la Santa Veracruz. This charming square is a peaceful haven from the electric energy that charges the surrounding streets. The museum is housed in what used to be the atrium of the Santa Veracruz church, built in the late nineteenth century. In 1986 the museum opened its doors to the public.

Walking into a museum devoted solely to print media is a transcendental experience for a printmaker. Printmaking tends to exist quietly backstage in the theatre of visual arts. To have it glorified and honored in a museum is a rare treat. During my two-hour visit I kept marveling at the team of security guards vigilantly protecting the precious prints, not paintings or sculptures, but prints, prints, prints!

There were two temporary exhibits: The 2009 First Biennial of Contemporary Mexican Printmaking, and Atelier Clot, Bramsen & Georges.

The Biennial was the perfect show to feel the current pulse of Mexican printmaking. I was expecting to see the same blast of color that flames across the city and was surprised to discover a rich universe of black and white lines and textures. According to Cesar Gordillo, director of the print museum in Puebla, printmaking is on the rise in Mexico. This exhibit is proof that Mexican artists are pushing technical limits and are churning out strong imagery.

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Serpiente
Ernesto Alva Franco

The first prize went to Ernesto Alva Franco for his triptych Serpiente. His image is engraved in trovicel, plastic sheet. Although reminiscent of linocut or woodcut, a closer look reveals linear nuances with a slightly synthetic, almost mechanical quality.

Luis Ricaurte Vilota has two pieces, entitled Lookumi, that have been made with lasergrafia, a technique he developed himself, which consists of engraving digital images on wood plates. For these works he layered see-through prints in plexiglass boxes. These prints embody timelessness, where traditional and high tech methods merge to create something powerful and altogether new.

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Daily Salary Strategy
Jorge Iván López Medina

The only other piece that incorporates digital technology is Daily Salary Strategy by Jorge Iván López Medina. This bold image is a combination of etching and digital printing.

At the other end of the technical spectrum, it was interesting to see Jesús Antonio Martínez Escobar’s in situ print of a tree stump. The paper bears subtle folds, testimonies to the hand printed process.

Atelier Clot, Bramsen & Georges was founded in Paris 113 years ago. It specializes in lithography. By the end of the last century, Auguste Clot, its founder, was considered the best printer in Paris. He was known for his experimental nature, particularly in the field of color printing. This drew many important artists to his studio, including Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Munch, and Rodin.

I discovered an interesting trend in the exhibition. Many artists showed carpetas, portfolios of works, consisting of a series of prints ranging from four to forty-five prints. Some of the smaller series were shown unframed in showcases.

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El pollo
Francisco Toledo

Francisco Toledo’s El pollo is a celebration of the fluid imagery that is the hallmark of lithography. There is something tragic, yet almost humoristic about it. I love the fork in the drawer. Is it for the pollo to use or is it for someone to use on the pollo?

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Dama en technicolor I
Antonio Saura

Dama en Technicolor I by Antonio Saura jumps off the wall with raw energy that begs to be accompanied by an Afro-Brazilian soundtrack. The piece feels so spontaneous, as if the artist painted it directly onto paper. To think that it was executed on a lithographic stone is mind-boggling.

I ended my visit with a stop at the educational studio. The room, designed for school-aged children, has different stations where the students can experiment with stamping, linocut, and frottage. Alejandro Monroy, head of educational services, insisted that I print one of their demo linoleum plates. They use a nifty wood tortilla press to print with. These presses are usually used to make corn tortillas. A ball of masa is placed in the centre of the press, pressure is applied and the dough is flattened into a round, flat tortilla. The studio’s tortilla press was altered; it has a door hinge, instead of the original smaller hinge, thereby creating more room to insert a linoleum plate. The plate is covered with paper, which in turn is covered with a thin rubber mat. I can say without hesitation that the quality of the printed image is impeccable! Mr. Monroy explained that the museum works with limited resources and pointed out that in the studio the children print onto recycled photocopy paper.

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“Limited resources,” is a refrain I heard over and over in artistic circles. However, it is inspiring to see what is being done with those limited cultural funds. In Mexico art and culture are worshipped on a pedestal. Across the capital city banners announce cultural events, each more enticing than the other. The artistic glory of pre-Hispanic Mexico lingers in the air and blends with today’s exciting art scene to create a truly effervescent cultural atmosphere.

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos of artwork from exhibition catalogues.

What’s in a Number?

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According to Wikipedia, 10,000 is the natural number following 9999 and preceding 10001. Many languages have a specific word for this number. In English it is a myriad. Somehow it sounds more impressive to say that 10,000 people have visited my blog, rather than boasting about a myriad of visitors.

I Googled 10,000. I discovered a prehistoric epic film, 10,000 BC. I fell upon 10,000 Steps, a program that encourages the use of a step-counting pedometer to track daily physical activity levels.

In Danvers, Massachusetts, 10,000 bees landed on the wing of a plane used for flight school training at Beverly Airport. The school’s owner called the police, who referred him to the local bee removal expert, Al Wilkins, who promptly sucked the bees off the plane with a specially designed vacuum. Luckily for the 10,000 bees his intervention did not stop there–he relocated the frazzled insects to hives where they can produce honey.

In The Game Cabinet, an online games magazine, I found some chat entries regarding a dice game called 10,000. Rina Whitehouse writes that she used to play this game where players rolled 5 or 6 dice and played until someone reached 10,000 points. However she has forgotten the rules. Charles Weckwerth claims he is the creator of 10,000, a dice game that comes with “six beautiful electric blue dice,” and English and Spanish instructions. He also mentions that he has not one but two copyrights on this product. Others comment that they used to play a similar game, with names that include Dix Mille, Farkle, Keepers, Blewit, and Cosmic Wimpout.

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There is a site where you can print out your own 10,000-year calendar. And it’s free! Yes, for those who always wanted to determine the day-of-the-week for any date in the years 1 to 10,000, this is their big break. “Not as easy to use as the 100-year calendar, but not difficult either.” Maybe I’ll use it to see what day my birthday falls on 800 years from now. There’s nothing like advanced planning.

On the same site I found a link to the Long Now Foundation, established in 01996, “to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years.” This is the brainchild of Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak, a California couple who coauthored several books including Tomorrow’s Table: Organic Farming, Genetics and the Future of Food. Kudos to them because most of the time, I don’t even know what I’m going to put on today’s table.

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I went to the 10,000 Reasons Civilization is Doomed website but it was down for maintenance, “for a few days, possibly weeks,” so I couldn’t get a taste of the doom and gloom that was fit to be included in this list. One Saturday night, around a dinner table, six friends, Vazaneelo 6 or V6 (Yes, they have a sense of humor) decided they were tired of “the fake optimism, superficiality, non-talented celebrities, doped-up athletes, dishonest and illiterate politicians, corporate thieves, wife-beaters and evangelical terrorists rampant in the world today.” What better way to deter some of the doom than to create a website where people can submit their reason to be included in this rosy list.

10,000 people have visited Talleen Hacikyan’s Art Blog. I tried to imagine what that crowd would look like if it gathered in one place. In 1977 I attended Pink Floyd’s Animals concert at the Big O, along with close to 80,000 fans. All I have to do is picture one eighth of this rocking audience. It’s a bit of a fuzzy image, as was the stage that night due to the clouds of illicit smoke that floated in the Olympic stadium. Roger Waters wondered, Is there anybody out there? When I created my blog, I wondered how many of those out there would read it. The counter shows that more than a myriad have. Virtually 10,000 virtual readers! I suppose that’s a legitimate reason to hit the keyboard and rock on.

Talleen Hacikyan

Printmaking and Continuity

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On May 23, I attended the private screening of Surfaces amoureuses, a documentary about taille douce, intaglio printmaking, made by Serge Lafortune. Serge, a dentist by profession, used to be a member of Atelier Circulaire, when it was located on Molière Street, in Montreal. I was fascinated by his double identity, dentist-printmaker. He always wore snug latex gloves to keep his hands impeccable for his patients and he had the advantage of having a sure supply of dental tools with which to etch his copper plates. Now Serge can add filmmaker to his list of credits.

I went to see Surfaces amoureuses because I know most of the artists featured in it. In the film, Louis Pierre Bougie says, “La gravure c’est une passion, un passe temps…c’est la continuité.” Louis Pierre’s creative energy is abundant and constant to say the least. For him making art is as natural as breathing. I’ve visited him in his studio and carried on entire conversations with him while he applied washes over monotypes or hammered his collages in order to produce a sure-fire bond between his papers.

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During one of my visits, I noticed paintbrushes drying in the cutlery section of his dish drainer. The sight of the Chinese bamboo handle brushes, amidst forks and knives, epitomized the fact that for Louis Pierre art and life intermingle and coexist innately.

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After writing the above paragraph, I had the immense pleasure of visiting Le goût de l’encre, the stunning retrospective of Monique Charbonneau at La Grande Bibliothèque. This show, curated by Hedwidge Asselin, is a must-see, for its understated beauty, its power to move, its impeccable presentation. The show presents some didactic information, mainly through a video made in 1972. It features an interview with the artist by Aline Desjardins for the program Femmes d’Aujour’hui.

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Detail of Mélodie étourdi (1986) by Talleen

Monique Charbonneau was my woodcut printing teacher at UQAM. It was in her class that I fell in love with printmaking. I took the class during my final semester. As soon as I graduated, I joined Atelier Circulaire, where I continued making woodcut prints for two years before exploring other print techniques. When I stood in front of the black and white woodcuts of her swimmers, my whole being shook, my heart rocked up and down those engraved waves, I was drowning, I was floating, I was at the mercy of these images. Monique Charbonneau had transmitted her passion for this medium to me and to a generation of students, this I knew, but now I was standing in front of tangible byproducts of her passion. I thought to myself, this is why I do what I do.

In the video, Aline Desjardins mentions the death of Monique’s husband, Albert Dumuchel, the year prior to the making of the video. Dumouchel, considered the father of printmaking in Quebec, initiated Monique to several print techniques. Aline asks Monique if art helps her deal with her husband’s death. Monique says that yes, art makes her feel less alone. She says that she feels that she is continuing something that she started with her husband. “J’ai l’impression de continuer…”

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Printmaking, especially the printing process, by its very nature requires repetition of certain gestures–cutting and wetting paper, inking and wiping plates, turning the wheel of the press, rotation after rotation.

In Paul Auster’s latest novel, Man in the Dark, Katya explains to her grandfather that a good film director knows how to use inanimate objects to express ideas and human emotions. The wheel of the printing press, especially as the printer starts to turn it, represents tradition and history and suggests advancement through space and time. Like the name of my studio, Atelier Circulaire, the wheel symbolizes continuity.

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Detail of Grass Houses (2005) by Talleen

After years of creative practice artists become familiar with the rhythm of the creative process, its surges and dormant stages. We understand the adrenalin rush before an exhibition, the emptiness following the show, the experimental dance while we search for direction, the yielding that comes with faith and confidence in the creative act. After many years of practice, these cycles begin to feel natural, like the seasons. They provide us with predictable leitmotifs that mark the passing of time. They are connectors between past, present, and future. Perhaps this is what continuity is all about.

Talleen Hacikyan

Le goût de l’encre
Retrospective of Monique Charbonneau
La Grande Bibliothèque, Montreal
Until August 16, 2009

Notes From the Hammock

Nothing beats blog writing in my hammock– a hand-woven one that I bought fifteen years ago in San Jacinto, Colombia. I am not writing under the wild chestnut tree in the back yard. I happen to be in the comfort of my living room.

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San Jacinto

“Is this solid?” guests invariably ask before they treat themselves to the pleasure of being gently rocked in the rainbow colored hammock. Solid as an Incan temple. It’s amazing what you can do with a stud finder and two screw hooks.

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This is a hammock-friendly house. My husband, Diego, has a white one in his studio upstairs. I occasionally catch him taking a blissful reading break in it. This may have something to do with his Colombian genes. Our son has spent many nights sleeping in that hammock. Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that I used to breastfeed him in that hammock.

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When Diego and I backpacked across South America in 1992 we navigated up the Amazon River for four days, from Tabatinga to Manaus, in a cargo passenger boat. While preparing for this journey in Montreal, I bought two ultra compact string hammocks from an army surplus store. Sporting our mighty backpacks, Diego and I walked across the Colombian border, from Leticia to the Brazilian port town of Tabatinga, and embarked the Avelino Leal. There was no lack of adventure on this vessel, including a tropical storm, a rescue mission involving a stranded boat, and a drug bust, complete with cops on a motorboat!

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At night the main deck of the Avelino Leal transformed into a dormitory of hammocks. In the morning, under the tropical sun, the array of colorful fabric was spectacular. I had read about this quaint sleeping arrangement in my South American Handbook, which is why I bought the hammocks. However, we were the first passengers to board the boat and the captain was eager to show us the best cabin, strategically located at the bow, great for catching that much-coveted Amazonian breeze through the porthole. For a few extra reals we opted for the cabin.

We used the hammocks on terra firma, in hotel rooms that had nifty built-in hammock hooks. The string hammock, or chinchorro, is a cool place to hang out in when trapped in muggy tropical air. When we were lucky enough to have a fan and electricity those hammocks felt like heaven!

There is something utterly relaxing about reclining in a hammock. The sensation of being hugged by the fabric, of being suspended, of being rocked, brings on a feeling of security and well-being. Perhaps our bodies remember being rocked in a parent’s arms or being carried in our mother’s wombs.

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Talleen’s hammock writing technique: Straddle the hammock. Prop a firm pillow in the crook of your back. Rest your laptop on your thighs and type away. You may also stretch out one or both your legs in front of you, but I prefer keeping my feet on the ground and letting my mind do the stretching.

Talleen Hacikyan

Happy Birthday Blog!

This May Talleen Hacikyan’s Art Blog turns one year old. I recently received a gift in the mail, thanks to a blog I wrote in August 2008, Ode to the Aubergine. According to the detailed statistics at unblog.fr, this is the most popular posting on my blog. In it I speak about the Stray Eggplant project by Laura Gentry. For this ongoing endeavor, the artist creates one- of-a-kind ceramic eggplants with whimsical messages and distributes them through refurbished cigarette machines. Eggplant owners are invited to send an original photo of their purple ceramic plants to a website for posting in the owner’s gallery.

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When I wrote about the Stray Eggplant project I never imagined that Laura Gentry would track down the blog! Not only did she read it, she posted an excerpt of Ode to the Aubergine on her blog, Gentry Joint, and last but not least she sent me an eggplant! She explained that she composed the message on my eggplant after reading my artist’s statement on my website. My personalized eggplant reads, “Forces beyond their control.”

These days I’m always on the lookout for little projects for a quick creativity fix. The eggplant photo turned out to be a fun activity that I managed to work on while supper was simmering on the stovetop, which may explain why I photographed my eggplant against the kitchen cupboard.

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Although the photo was staged and shot within twenty minutes, the creative process took place mentally beforehand. Over the days preceding the photo, my family and I were watching the 1956 version of The Ten Commandments. I say days because the film lasts three and a half hours. This movie is filmed in Technicolor, and features mise en scènes that cry, “Studio scene!” and others that are obviously filmed in the great outdoors of Egypt and the Sinai. I love the studio scenes. When Moses’ birth mother sends him in his basket down the Nile I could practically feel the plastic reeds and smell the chlorinated water. The quality of light in these artificially staged scenes is unique. The actors are drenched in floodlights–there isn’t a shadow in sight. It’s always high noon in these scenes! What I like best about this film is its theatrical quality and this is the atmosphere I wanted to create in my photo.

I suspended my eggplant with nylon thread from a branch. It kept twirling and capturing the writing proved to be a challenge. To deal with these forces beyond my control, I used a trick my son taught me. This consisted of depressing the shutter button halfway and keeping it that way until I want to snap the photo, at which point I pressed it all the way down.

Instead of marking my blog’s birthday with a cake, I am celebrating with my eggplant. I am keeping it in my studio as a reminder that sometimes the forces beyond our control bring unexpected, wonderful surprises, in the mail and otherwise!

Talleen Hacikyan

Thank you Laura Gentry.

Photo #1 from Stray Eggplant website
Photo #2 Talleen Hacikyan

Read Laura Gentry’s blog about this blog…and see my « Technicolor eggplant » photo in her eggplant gallery.

Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve

After seeing the retrospective of Kees Van Dongen (1877-1968) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, I am convinced that the title of this exhibit is very apropos. Strolling through the first rooms of his early drawings I was struck by Van Dongen’s special relationship with the cities where he lived and worked. Nathalie Bondil, one of the curators of the show, writes that Van Dongen depicts the psychological portrait of a ferocious, futile and factice society. Places of pleasure, Paris, Venice, Deauville and Monte Carlo are the backdrops for this theatre of mores.

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The Fauves were a short-lived loose grouping of early 20th century Modern artists whose work emphasized painterly qualities and strong color. While most of the artists associated with the movement were mainly painters of nature, Van Dongen was interested in depicting human nature. With the exception of Matisse the human figure is a marginal element in Fauve painting. In Van Dongen’s case the opposite is true. In this exhibition the human condition is painted with a tone that often oscillates between sarcasm and denunciation.

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The exhibition takes us into the world of the demimonde, of prostitutes, of single mothers, of people who lived on the fringe of society. We get to know Van Dongen the illustrator. His masterful drawing together with his swift brushwork, lend themselves to powerful illustrations. There is a book on display, described as a story for the young and old, about a single mother who turns to the streets to support her daughter. The book ends with the daughter following her mother’s footsteps.

The show is impeccably presented and I enjoyed the quotes printed on the walls above the paintings:

“Moi je suis comme une vache. Je regarde: je peins ce que je vois.”

“Paris m’attirait comme un phare.”

“Pour vivre, je dessinais dans les squares le portrait des promeneurs qui le voulaient bien et avec Picasso on étalaient nos toiles par terre près de Médrano. Prix unique à cent sous.”

“J’aime les belles femmes qui inspirent le désir charnel et la peinture m’en donne la posession la plus complète.”

“…comme je n’avais pas d’argent pour me payer des modèles professionnels, j’allais dans les bistrots ramasser les filles, qui pour un café crème, acceptaient de poser quelques heures.”

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These snippets of writing, together with the paintings, illustrations, and photos of the artist, contain information that let us reconstruct Van Dongen’s life. I liked imagining the artist frequenting the nocturnal haunts that became the stages for his subjects. I could picture him devouring cities with his bestial appetite, getting to know the town from the fringes, painting the town Fauve.

Talleen Hacikyan

Virtual tour of the exhibition

Van Dongen: Painting the Town Fauve
Juanuary 22 to Aril 19, 2009
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts

April’s Fish

In France April Fool’s is called Poisson d’avril, April’s fish. The French fool their friends by taping a paper fish onto their friends’ backs. This year for April Fool’s day I made myself a silver fish– a 925 sterling silver fish.

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This was my first venture into jewelry making. For my birthday, my artsy friend Johanne (see my blog Johanne Weibrenner an Artist of All Trades) gave me a gift certificate that entitled me to go to her house and make a piece of silver jewelry, private lesson, materials, and jovial conversation included.

Johanne suggested that I begin practicing my cutting, soldering and filing skills by making a copper ring. I worked with some etched copper scraps that she had recuperated from Atelier Circulaire, our printmaking studio. I worked away until I fashioned what to my surprise actually looked like a ring.

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My coach graduated me to silver. I decided to make a fish pendant. Johanne taught me how to shape silver wire, how to hammer it flat, how to cut pieces out of a silver sheet, and how to saw pieces. Sawing without breaking the thin blade is an art I have yet to master. Johanne guided me, “You’re applying too much pressure, ease up, always remember less is more!” She was very precise with instructions, “Saw like you’re playing violin…no, the cello!” I have never played either instrument but somehow this piece of advice worked because at one point it really felt as if I was cutting through butter.

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Soldering was a challenge to say the least. During our first session, (my one session became two) we used a torch that shot a mighty dragon flame. For my second session Johanne had equipped herself with an ultra sophisticated jeweler’s torch with two valves, one for regulating oxygen, the other for propane. I loved using this device. Johanne was thrilled that the old one had now been relegated to the role of burning crème flambé. My fish turned out to be a complex project with many pieces so I got plenty of practice using the new torch.

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This winter in New York I saw a fabulous Calder jewelry exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum. Most of the pieces featured a hammered surface. I tried my hand at pounding the middle strips of my fish with a ball pein hammer, to mock a scale texture.

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By far my very favorite step was polishing my finished piece. As I child I used to love polishing our household silverware with Twinkle silver polish. Polishing with a mechanical polisher, with special paste, turned out to be double the fun. It didn’t get done in one shot; it happened in three progressive stages, with electrolyte baths in between (for my fish, not for me.)

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At one point, as I was polishing I remembered visiting a silver mine in Potosi, Bolivia in 1992. A guide led my husband and I into the mine. Wearing a helmet and clutching my propane lamp I followed them into the obscure depths of that underground universe. We stopped at an altar where offerings of flowers had been made to protect the miners. The silver miners, who sometimes work up to ten hours a day, chew coca leaves to help alleviate the harsh conditions. Potosi is teaming with palliris, miner’s widows, and when we saw a man and a young boy crouched into the crooks and crannies of this previously silver- infested Cerro Rico, rich mountain, I understood how lives can end fast here. It was hard to see, hard to move, hard to breathe, hard to imagine a world beyond this dank dungeon situated at 4090 meters above sea level.

As the rotary wire brush polished my silver pendant it became warm in my hand, and oh so soft, and started shining like the moon. So strange that at the moment when my piece finally transformed into an object of beauty I remembered the Quechua Indians who mine this precious metal.

Back at the worktable for the final touch, Johanne handed me a 925 swan neck stamp, “You have to stamp 925 on your fish!” I placed the end of the stamp on the back of the fishtail and gave the other end a good whack with the hammer. “One more time, a little harder.” After this nerve-wracking yet satisfying step, my teacher inspected the punched numbers. “C’est bon!”

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 by Johanne Weilbrenner, who did not want to be photographed because she was having a bad hair day!

Dolls and Art

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Left to right: Fuzzy, Sleepy Baby, Mafoo

I’ve been thinking about dolls. Sitting in my living room, wondering what or whom to write about in my blog, my eyes kept focusing on the three dolls perpetually resting in an old Canadiana antique baby sleigh. My Godmother, Mayda, from New York, sent me Mafoo, my first doll. This rubber girl has aqua eyes that open and close, a molded bun that won’t even budge in a hurricane, and dimples on her knees. If you peek under her dress she looks anorexic now because all the air has come out of her. Sleepy Baby has a hard plastic face and a spongy body. In the 49 years that I have owned her she never once opened her eyes, at least not while I was looking. I used to cuddle her and fall asleep.

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Four dolls

Fuzzy on the other hand, kept me wide-awake at night. I remember being in bed and making her dance in the dark, tossing her stringy hair all over the place like a Go-Go dancer. I worked her so hard that I had to bind her dislocated neck with a leather grip that I took off the handle of my Dad’s tennis racket. Mafoo, Sleepy Baby and Fuzzy are the survivor dolls that have followed me. There used to be countless others.

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When I was growing up in St. Jean, Quebec, we used to have a genuine horse drawn sleigh in the basement. Much to my dismay we did not own a horse to go with it. My mother had painted the sleigh black with gold trim and had upholstered it in cherry red corduroy. It was inundated with my dolls–dolls that walked, slept, peed, and fed my imagination. Being an only child at the time, I enjoyed playing in this haven of surrogates. At times these children became my orphanage. Other times I became one of them and we would ride together as our team of horses galloped us off to the North Pole. We never did find Santa Clause’s house, however, Santa inevitably found our house on Christmas Eve. He always dumped the presents next to the sleigh, a convenient spot since it was located next to the chimney.

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Through the years many dolls have come and gone from my life. Some have stayed, albeit in a plastic box in the crawl space of my basement. Today, for the sake of this blog, I contorted my body into Cirque de Soleil postures as I reached into the corner of my crawl space to dig out what remains of my diminished family of dolls. I found Jenny the redhead who would perennially crop up from my birthday cake, atop a cascade of chocolate icing. I discovered a nameless doll I sewed when I was in my twenties, back when I had that precious commodity called free time. I recovered a faded and barren matrioshka, Russian nesting doll. I found my itty-biddy plastic girls I bought in a dusty market in a Bolivian village, dolls with bottle cap faces from Cappadocia, Turkey, and dolls from Brazil, still in their never-opened original plastic bags!

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What do dolls have to do with art? Everything. I am not referring to the art of doll making. I am thinking about the act of playing with dolls. As a child I would invent countless scenarios with my dolls, appropriate them with an array of emotions, in other words I expressed myself through them. These were not scenarios that I’d sit down and script. They happened on their own, and because I was never aware of being the instigator of these stories, these dolls appeared all the more real to me, with a will of their own.

When I create my prints I have a similar, intuitive approach. Yes, I may start with drawings before attacking my plate but at the sketching stage I try to be as free as I can, shutting off my personal sensors. When I transpose my drawn ideas to the plate, I continue the state of play as I rip the cardboard plate and glue on various materials. For my latest series, Animal Instincts, I cut out cardboard animals that became my plates. Several times as I manipulated my horses, wolves and cats, I remembered playing with paper dolls as a child. When I juxtapose my animals at the printing stage, again I am playing as I invent scenarios and create relationships.

When I look at my dolls now they don’t seem as alive as they used to. In fact they look dilapidated and smell musty, which is why they have been relegated to plastic bins. I really don’t need them anymore. Sometimes I do get the urge to play, but never with dolls. One of these days I want to make beaded necklaces, another activity reminiscent of my childhood. My husband recently bought me tons of beads, enough to string a necklace from here to Patagonia. Now all I need to do is make free time, an art I have yet to master!

Talleen Hacikyan

Street Heart

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Today I wanted to stop all the running around that comes with being an artist.

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Sometimes I feel as if I’m up against the wall.

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I wanted to walk down the road of freedom.

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Drain all my troubles away.

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See beyond the writing on the wall.

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Reflect.

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Go places, even if that meant pretending to be a tourist in Old Montreal.

Talleen Hacikyan

Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir

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I’m at Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir, about to interview the man who runs the show. Alain Piroir rolls two chairs to an inking table, sets his expresso cup on the glass surface. « Alors, qu’es-ce que tu veux savoir?» he asks. I ask about his stylish red glasses. « Dollarama,» he says, « I sat on the other ones!»

Everyone in the Quebec printmaking milieu knows Alain Piroir. The master printer, who moved to Montreal from Lyon fifteen years ago, is a gift to printmakers. When he immigrated he worked at Atelier Circulaire for eighteen months, which is where I met him for the first time.

During this period Alain landed a contract to print for Jean-Paul Riopelle. He worked for four months at L’Isle-aux-Grues, where Riopelle was living at the time. Task at hand: to set up a printmaking studio, provide technical assistance to the artist, and to print the bon à  tirer proofs which would become part of the artist’s book, Le Cirque, written by Gilles Vigneault. Once a print meets the artist’s expectations, this becomes a bon à tirer, « good to pull » proof. There were days when Riopelle wasn’t very motivated to work on his copper etchings, however, says Alain, the legendary Quebec artist was pleasant to work with. Alain printed the entire edition of the book in Montreal with his daughter, Agathe, Elmyna Bouchard, and Yann.

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Casgrain Street

After this Herculean project Alain established his own printshop on St. Denis Street. Since then he has moved his studio twice, once to Mt.Royal Street, a hop away from the effervescent buzz of the Main, and then to Casgrain, across from Atelier Circulaire.

I have had the pleasure of working with Alain in all of his studios. I remember the day I brought my son, four months old at the time, to the St.Denis location. Pablo had fallen asleep in the car. I carried my sleeping babe–bundled in his snowsuit and strapped into his car seat–and propped him on the kitchen floor, expecting the usual hour-long nap. I was itching to help Alain print, dying to get my hands dirty with something other than a diaper change. Alain warned me not to print. Having been a parent for longer than me, he knew what he was talking about. Just as I started dabbing my Pthalo blue ink on my collagraph plate, Pablo started to cry!

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Fortunately I have had many other chances to work with Alain. Through the years he has gotten to know my work. I am always amazed at how quickly he can grasp the mental image of what I want and turn it into a real, live print. I can describe a color, or a group of colors, and he mixes away until the hues appear. He is steady, indefatigable, an impeccable technician, and never imposes his own esthetic. The most exciting printing sessions were when he printed my large formats, one of which will be on exhibit at my upcoming show. Two words to express the experience of having my work printed by Alain: pure luxury.

Twelve years have gone by since I took my baby to Alain’s studio. My son is taller than me now. Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir has also grown. Its present location on Casgrain Street boasts a sweeping eighth-floor view of Mile End, set against the undulating backdrop of Mount Royal. The wall-to-wall windows invite a flood of sunlight into this magnificent loft, that includes a unique gallery space. At night, the atmosphere is nothing short of magical as the view transforms into a glittering urban galaxy. Can you tell I am trying to lure you to my March 6 vernissage at Atelier-galerie Alain Piroir?

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This printshop is practically a museum. Some people collect stamps. Alain collects presses. He owns six etching presses, one typography press, paper and metal cutters, and an impressive two-hundred year old binding press. Each press has a story. Three of them traveled to Quebec from France by boat. If you think that is a poetic image, wait until I tell you about another story that involves a boat and presses. Attendez! That’s my hook to keep you reading! Among the presses that were shipped from France there is an adorable mini Bertrand that would look very smart in my living room. Agathe, who is wiping a Martin Muller plate, points out that her father designed the press with the wooden frame. Alain explains that he created it in France out of scrap, at a time when he had lost all his presses. It is an unusual looking contraption but I would never have guessed its humble origins. Alain has come a long way since those days. His impressive collection includes two Ledeuils, one of which used to belong to Albert Dumouchel.

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Alain, originally trained in marquetry, went on to study fine arts for five years in Lyon. After earning his Diplôme nationale de gravure in 1974, he moved to Paris, where he worked as a printer for seven years at Georges Visat’s art publishing studio. He printed bon à tirer proofs for big names such as Francis Bacon, Max Earnst, and Roberto Matta.

After returning to Lyon, where he opened his own studio, Alain printed and published prints for the next fifteen years. At this point he wanted a change. His dream project was to buy a barge and set up a printshop on it. He wanted to print, publish and travel all in one shot! Instead of buying a peniche, he immigrated to Montreal, where he got to do all of those three things! I ask him if he still dreams of turning the wheel of a press as his barge advances languidly through an exotic canal. He smiles, as if saying, «Anything is possible.»

If he decided to do it, I think he could do it. It takes a real visionary to have gotten to where he is now. Printmaking is not dead but let’s just say that it takes a lot of love, passion, conviction, and perseverance to keep it alive! Alain and Agathe are forever full of projects, always striving to increase visibility, reputation, and let’s not forget income.

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Agathe, an artist, printer, and mother of two young children, has been working with her father for several years now. When she was fifteen she worked at his Lyon studio. After immigrating to Montreal with him, she printed for a while in New York. When she returned to Montreal she opened her own printshop, where she worked for five years. I ask her about the nature of her collaboration with her father. She leans into the wheel of the press as she ponders this serious question. « We have differences in the day-to-day functioning of little things, but globally we share the same vision.»

Alain agrees, giving the example of art publishing as one of their goals. He has already published prints of high-profile artists such as Louis-Pierre Bougie, Francine Simonin, and Martin Muller, and done co-editions with Galerie Éric Develin and Galerie Lacerte. Now he wants to publish prints for international artists and organize related events to attract the media and art collectors.

I look forward to exhibiting my latest show, Animal Instincts, at Atelier-gallery Alain Piroir. I am anxious to see my prints, hot off the press, hanging in this glorious space. I can’t wait to share the sparkling nocturnal view with you on Friday March 6.

Talleen Hacikyan

ANIMAL INSTINCTS
Atelier-galerie Alain-Piroir

March 3 to 28, 2009
Vernissage: Friday March 6, 5:00-7:00 pm

5333, Casgrain Street, suite 802
(Two blocks east of St. Laurent, one block north of Fairmount)
514 276-3494

Photos # 1, 2, and 4 by Claude Arsenault

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