Category: Prints – Posters

“The Gaze”: Silkscreen Print

The Gaze - Silkscreen print by Mark Vallen ©The Gaze” – Black & White serigraphic print. 1980
(c) Mark Vallen. Hand pulled by the artist
Dimensions: 17.5″ x 23″ inches
Signed and numbered by the artist
Edition of 16

I created this silkscreen portrait print of a young woman in 1980. During that period I was doing quite a lot of work in serigraphy, generally making prints of a political nature. As evidenced in the above, I was also interested in creating works of a more personal disposition. Though trained in modern methods of silkscreen printing, I never liked transferring photographic images onto a screen using chemicals and emulsions or even by means of laboriously cutting paper or film stencils. I have always enjoyed a “hands on” approach to serigraphy; drawing directly on the screen so that the gesture of drawing becomes part of the print.

Because of that preference, I developed a method of drawing directly onto the screen using oil-based lithographer’s pencils and crayons, complemented by painting lithographer’s touche onto the screen with a brush as if I were painting a canvas. Once dried I then flooding the screen with water-based glue. The “stencils” produced bore results akin to lithographic techniques, allowing for great spontaneity, subtle gradations in tone, remarkable textures, and best of all – since one could never fully control the medium – finished prints that were full of surprise and “the artist’s hand”.

While I did create prints in color, I had, and still have, a preference for prints in black and white, which on the whole I feel are more enigmatic and melancholy – which suits me fine. Some of my favorite silkscreen works from that period of experimentation were created by using the method I explained in the above. Of those prints I especially like The Gaze. Similar black and white serigraphic prints I created during those days will be available on this web log in months to come.

MAY DAY POSTER

"MAY 1, UNITE" - Mark Vallen. 1980. © Silkscreen 11.5 x 17 inches. Printed in Day-Glo inks. Bourgeois - You Have Learned Nothing!

"MAY 1, UNITE" - Mark Vallen. 1980. © Silkscreen 11.5 x 17 inches. Printed in Day-Glo inks. Bourgeois - You Have Learned Nothing!

I created my silkscreen print in 1980 as a celebration of International Workers Day, or May Day, which is observed annually around the world on May 1st. The origin of May Day has its roots in the American labor movement.

On May 1, 1886, workers in the U.S. mounted a general strike across the country in order to win the eight hour day. On May 4, 1886, at a striking workers demonstration at Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, an unidentified assailant tossed a bomb at police who were attempting to clear the square; in response police fired directly into the crowd. When the smoke cleared, four workers were dead and some seventy were wounded, while seven police officers had been killed. Many in the worker’s movement suspected that agent provocateurs were behind the bombing.

State authorities reacted by attempting to break the back of the labor movement, raiding its meeting halls and arresting dozens of its leaders. Eventually eight anarchist activists were charged with the bombing and a kangaroo court found all of them guilty as charged. On November 11, 1887, four of the defendants were taken to the gallows and put to death. One of them, August Spies, yelled out just prior to his hanging, “The time will come when our silence will be more powerful than the voices you strangle today!”

Peace Press Graphics: 1984

In August of this year I announced that a number of my early graphic works would be included in the museum exhibition, Peace Press Graphics 1967-1987: Art in the Pursuit of Social Change, at the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach (CSULB). The exhibit is an important showing of over 100 historic posters and flyers published by Peace Press, a Los Angeles collective that once ran a professional print shop serving the local and national needs of activist political groups and organizations. The exhibit will close Dec. 11, 2011, and because of its relevance to current events I wanted to bring attention to the history of one of my exhibited artworks – a flyer titled 1984.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1984. Offset flyer. Used to publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition held during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1984. Offset flyer. Used to publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition held during the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics.

The 1984 flyer publicized the Anti-War Art Exhibition, an art show I curated at a venue in Venice, California with assistance from Shock Battalion, the now defunct 80s era arts activist collective I founded during that period. From July 27 to August 13, 1984, the exhibit displayed contemporary and past anti-war art from around the globe; drawings by Japanese atom bomb survivors (hibakusha), children’s art from the war zones of El Salvador, reproductions of the photomontage works of John Heartfield, works from local southern California artists, and so much more. 1984 was one of nine separate flyers I created to publicize the exhibition, all of which are in the Peace Press Graphics exhibit catalog, and five of which are on display at the University Art Museum.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Detail.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Detail.

The Anti-War Art Exhibition was ultimately attended by thousands, but to date, has not yet been properly documented.  I will someday write lengthily about the exhibit, but for now all that remains in the public record are the flyers.

The Anti-War Art Exhibition was intentionally timed to coincide with the highly politicized 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympics, which had become a victim of Cold War insanity; in fact the show’s alternative title was the Pre-World War 3 Art Exhibit.

In the blackened right-hand margin of the exhibit announcement flyer, I quoted the Los Angeles Times from Aug. 13, 1984; “LAOC (Olympic Committee) officials have said privately that some police chiefs have wanted to prepare not for an Olympics but for, as one put it, World War III”.

In 1980 U.S. President Jimmy Carter barred U.S. athletes from attending the Moscow Summer Olympics because of the 1979 Soviet invasion and occupation of Afghanistan; the U.S. led a boycott of some sixty countries that refused to participate in the Moscow games.

In 1984 the Soviets retaliated by leading an international boycott of the Los Angeles Olympiad, charging the Reagan administration with using the games “for political purposes”, of “stirring up anti-Soviet propaganda”, and of taking a “cavalier attitude” concerning the security of Soviet athletes in the U.S.

Some fourteen countries joined the Soviets in boycotting the L.A. games. The Reagan White House hit back with heated condemnations of the USSR for its “barbarous behavior” in Afghanistan; an immense irony considering the U.S. has waged a bloody and costly war of occupation in Afghanistan since 2001.

But the artwork my 1984 flyer was based on had been circulating in Los Angeles a good seven-months before the Anti-War Art Exhibition. Created in late 1983, my artwork was initially a 29 x 21 inch pencil drawing I then reworked into a black and white silkscreen print to be posted on city streets. Around 200 silkscreen posters were published and distributed around L.A. on the eve of 1984.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Silkscreen print. 29 x 21 inches.

"1984" - Mark Vallen ©. 1983. Silkscreen print. 29 x 21 inches.

Of course the title of my artwork came from George Orwell’s novel concerning a dystopian society ruled through propaganda, fear, and raw police power. Having first read the book as a 15-year-old in 1968, it did much to shape my political philosophy, and when the actual year rolled around I felt compelled – given the miserable state of the world – to create an artwork that would facetiously “celebrate” our own entry into a nightmare social order.

I am now offering a handful of these rare 1984 silkscreen prints that I had long ago set aside in my archives. The 29 x 21 inch prints have not been seen since I first distributed them in 1984, and the prints have never been available for sale. Intended as throw away street posters, the prints are imperfect and roughly printed but otherwise in perfect condition.

LA Punk ’79: The Lost Linoleum Print – Pat Bag

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12

"Pat Bag" - Mark Vallen. 1979. Original hand-pulled Linoleum cut print. Edition of 12.

In early 1979 I carved a linoleum block portrait of Pat Bag, the enchantingly sinister-looking bass player for The Bags, one of the first and most notorious late 70s punk rock bands in Los Angeles. At their earliest performances band members wore bags over their heads, and each was assured anonymity by taking “Bag” as a last name. It was in ’79 that the band posed for me; soon after Pat left the group and began performing under her own name, Patricia Morrison. She eventually ended up joining The Damned, the first U.K. punk band to have recorded a single, an album, and to have toured the United States. I remember their 1977 visit to my home city of Los Angeles helped ignite the L.A. punk scene, so it was fitting that in 1996 Morrison married The Damned’s lead singer, Dave Vanian.

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

At the Josephine Press atelier, master printer John Greco prepares the "Pat Bag" linoleum block for printing by applying ink with a brayer roller. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

I hand-pulled a single trial proof of my “Pat Bag” print and was pleased with the results, but I never pulled a full edition of prints; the linoleum block has been in storage since 1979 – until now.

Late last year I worked with master printer John Greco of Josephine Press in Santa Monica, California, to finally publish the suite of prints that should have been issued in ’79.

Each print in the edition was hand-pulled by master-printer John Greco on beautiful heavy white paper (acid free) using Dan Smith traditional relief ink; all prints are embossed in the lower right corner with the Josephine Press logo. Adhering to the time-honored practice in traditional printmaking, a final “cancellation print” was made after I cut a large “X” cut through the linoleum block – signifying the edition is closed and no further prints can be published from the block.

The inking completed, Greco inspects the block. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco inspects the linoleum block. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

In all likelihood “Pat Bag” is the only linoleum cut portrait of a punk rocker to have been created anywhere in the world. As an active participant in the punk explosion that rocked L.A. and the world in 1977, I was one of the few artists to document the chaotic scene as it happened through a series of drawings and paintings. It all reminded me of the German Cabaret phenomenon of the Weimar Republic (1918-33).

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco reveals the very first print to come off the press. Photo by Mark Vallen ©

Having worked with John Greco in the past to create and publish my original lithographs My Beloved America and  El Salvador is Present, I wanted Josephine Press to print my old linoleum block of Pat Bag.

Unfortunately the block had been improperly stored, causing some minor warpage; in addition the linoleum had become fragile in places, requiring some restorative work and minor recutting. Due to the unstable condition of the old linoleum block, Greco and I decided a small print run was the only viable option, hence the edition of only twelve prints.

Owing to his immeasurable experience in all facets of printmaking, and his remarkable dedication to craft, Greco managed to pull a beautiful edition of prints that I am quite proud of.

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

As Greco re-inks the linoleum block for printing, wet prints "hot off the press" can be seen drying in the foreground. Photograph by Mark Vallen ©

Greco used a 36″ x 60″ American French intaglio press to print my linoleum block.

The heavy press, with its colossal steel and aluminum frame, solid steel roll, and elegant oversized star wheel, is considered the world’s finest press for printing etchings, monotypes, collographs, wood blocks, and linoleum blocks.

Greco calls it his “Cadillac.” In fact, it is so large that when he first acquired it decades ago, he had to cut a large opening in his studio wall in order to bring the press into his workshop.

Entering the Josephine Press atelier is like crossing into another era, where printmaking skills never fell victim to the whims of today’s postmodern fashions. In Greco’s workshop time-honored skills and techniques are perennial; I can imagine some of my favorite printmakers – Rembrandt, Goya, Edvard Munch, Käthe Kollwitz, – working diligently today in some quiet corner of Greco’s studio. Nevertheless, Greco does possess a 21st century vision for printmaking. He coined the term “tradigital” to describe his innovative print techniques combining traditional methods like woodcuts and etchings with archival digital printing. In the near future I will be working with Greco in producing a new series of etchings as well as linoleum and woodblock prints.