Scratching About

So at the moment I don’t have a working studio space. This means working away on woodcuts and printing editions is a bit of a challenge. So I decided to try my hand at something that seemed both familiar and new. Scratchboards.

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The process is very similar to relief printing in so much as the image is about positive and negative space. But rather than carving on wood in reverse. You simply scratch away at the black surface to show the white surface underneath. A wonderful combination of drawing and the stark reductive process of block printing. Plus that element that I love where all marks are permanent and where nothing can be undone – which makes you commit to what you are creating in a refreshing way.

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So, here are my first few experiments with scratchboards. To say I am fast becoming hooked on it is an understatement. For the forseeable future I am going to continue to experiment and have fun drawing whatever comes to mind…
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Above is Louie, a cool fellow I met last year. His mum and dad, Kristie and Luke let me look after him for a few days. The above scratchboard then led to other friends asking me to do a commission piece and below is Frankie. A cool cat with different Bowie-like eyes.

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And as I play with textures and backgrounds, shadows and lighting I couldn’t help but do one of one of my dear friends, bandmate and favourite noisemaker: Donnie.

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I have a few ideas already forming for what to do next. I am interested to see where this new medium takes me…

 

Hidden Treasures

I have been here in New York for around six weeks now which means I am finally feeling settled and kind of know my way around. As a tourist, you go to the landmarks, the big galleries and such. However with a little more time on your hands you can go wander the places that are a little more off the map. That’s exactly what I did the other day.

I wanted to go somewhere quiet (NYC is not a quiet place) and so I decided to check out the public library. Also because the building looks pretty epic and apparently it’s beautiful inside… I can tell you now that it was!

So after scanning the shelves for a few books I was curious about but that were long out of print I asked where the art books (and in particular books about printmaking) were. I was sent to a room in the corner of the top floor away from the main collection. When I got there the room was closed off and locked behind a security door. I figured I had the wrong place so I asked again and was told to go back and ring the buzzer to be let in. I did that and a friendly but curt lady asked what I wanted. I explained I had been sent to that part of the library to look at printmaking related art books.

She looked me up and down and then opened the door to let me in…

 

Holy Shit! Looking back I am glad this part of the Public library is not just somewhere any kid with dirty fingers or haphazard person can wander through. The thing is, I work in a bookstore and a pretty fucking great one! It’s in an art gallery and so I see impressive  art-related things more than most. But this room was something else!

After taking down all my details, looking at my passport and signing me in, a fellow asked what I wanted to look at. I instantly realised that every book in the room was locked behind glass cabinets. I explained I was a printmaker, new to New York and figured this might be a good place to find interesting materials. He nodded and asked again if there was anything in particular. Off the top of my head I rattled off the couple of rare books that are at the top of my list of things I would love to someday find. He asked me to take a seat and then wandered off.

He returned a few minutes later with everything I had asked for. he placed them down, showed me how I should handle the books and said to let him know when I was finished. I was kind of stunned for a minute. Beautiful books/wordless novels by Lynd Ward – all first edition, some signed and all printed directly from the original blocks. And in particular a novel by Otto Nuckel that I had seen exerts of but never actually read the book. It was so great as over the next hour and a half, I scanned, read, studied and felt the books, the paper, the imprints of the images and the age that befalls a publication older than your parents. Total book lovers heaven.

Obviously too, I started to also think of other artists I had wanted to read about and when done I asked if there was anything by German artist Otto Dix? In particular the publication Der Krieg? The clerk asked if I wanted to look through a bound or loose leaf copy of the work. Not knowing what he meant exactly I said “loose leaf please”. He nodded and walked off. It was a good five minutes later when he returned with a very large pile of matboard. He asked me to be careful in handling but to take all the time I wanted. It was only then I realised this wasn’t a book at all. It was an original edition of the entire print collection of Der Krieg – the kind of thing I would have to go to a gallery to otherwise see.

I spent the next two hours going over each etching. The details, the rough scrawled lines of copperplates scratched in first world war trenches and on the frontlines of battlefields. It was strong, powerful and definitely a little upsetting to look over these prints but it was also very inspiring! And to think that some guy could walk in off the street, sit down and ask to see and handle these artworks was full-on!

When I was done, I was drained. I listen to heavy music and see a lot of associated artwork that attempts to be scary or confronting or even offensive but none of it had anything on these works. This shit was heavy!

Anyway, I took a few minutes, scanned the shelves of the room and made a list. I let the clerk know I was very grateful and would be returning again to look at more once I had worked out specifically what books and artists I was interested in. He handed me my coat, unlocked the door and let me out.

I am going to try to go back each week and look at more books and works. Take notes, study and try to apply what I see and learn back into my own work. I was grateful that places like this still exist and especially when there is still art that exists in books but not on the internet. For me it was a room of hidden treasure, free to anyone who simply asked.

Never Let An Idea Get Away

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Last year I was commissioned to illustrate and design album artwork for a band. It was a fun project that thankfully wasn’t too stressful (meeting other peoples expectations is always different to meeting your own). But like just about any project that requires consultation, there were several ideas in the running but only one used in the end.

What we have here was one of the ideas that didn’t communicate exactly what was needed for the project but still a few months after things were wrapped up, kept coming back to me as something I should invest some time into.

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The piece is titled ‘I Have Seen Death’. It is number two in what could be an ongoing series – we’ll have to wait and see. If it’s not totally obvious yet, the woodcut is of a distressed and mummified face.  I was conscious that I didn’t want this to look like some Converge ‘Jane Doe’ type rip off so getting the right level of detail was really important. Basically this meant that the block was going to have to be large to get the desired effect.

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About two months of carving on and off and I finally finished it off.

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The first test print off the block…

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…and the final proof below.

I am really happy with this, it’s one of those prints that allows you to get up real close and see the totally abstract-like cuts that have gone into the print only to then stand back and take it all in as a whole. Fun! …creepy! …but fun.

The edition is of 10 in total and I have, for the first time, made this print available online. There is only two prints available online so far. Go check it out here…

 https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/AlexGilliesWoodcuts

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Inspiration & Necessity – Woodcuts & Tattoos

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Sometimes woodcuts come about due to the desire to make art from what you see in the world or a memory that’s floating around your head. Sometimes though they have a more specific purpose. For me they have long been intertwined with my love and obsession with tattoos. In fact many a woodcut I have created has been a way to get an image out of my head and keep it off my skin by making it into a print. Sometimes however then in fact just help clarify how much I want them as tattoos.

A few prints come to mind with this scenario. The print above exists on paper and exists on my left arm. A design created to cover-up laser treatment done on a decades old tattoo. That was the final design and below is the initial design that was almost used but didn’t end up fitting the space well enough…

 

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So from all this we ended up with the following result.

 

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One tattoo and two beautiful woodcut prints that I have printed up and are now also available for purchase.

Going back a bit, for years I had an illustration that I loved. The original was from medieval times and I had tossed up for a long time if I should get it as a tattoo. In the end back in 2014 I thought it best to make it into a woodcut and get it out of my system…

 

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But as it turns out that still didn’t stop me and in January 2016 I found myself under the needle again…

 

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…and so the tattoos influencing woodcuts influencing tattoos pendulum continues to swing. I love tattoo flash and I love the print related art I make. I don’t ever want to tattoo someone else but I do want to keep carving making the print related art I love. And hopefully turning more ideas into images – cause I only have so much skin to work with!

https://www.etsy.com/au/shop/AlexGilliesWoodcuts

Online & Available Now!

 

 
Firing up the site again! Just like my online Etsy store which I have restocked with over 50 of my woodcut prints.
Over there you will find artwork spanning the past eight years and many prints that I have not made available online before now. Handmade and highly affordable, this is artwork I have made for love, for friends, bands, clothing and everything in between!
Click on the link above and have a look around.
…and make sure to stop back here as I get back into the swing of things, showing art in progress, behind the scenes stuff and telling stories about the medium I am happily obsessed with!
Cheers, A.

Grieg – Young Sharks 7inch Single

One project I have been occupied with over the last few months has been creating a 7inch single for my band Grieg. The band didn’t need a single to accompany our debut album (out next month) but I had a printing project that I had wanted to do for a long time and some extra songs that didn’t make the album was a perfect excuse to make it happen.

A friend of mine Tom Hazelmyer from Minneapolis and I were talking last year about making a relief print work when tranfered not on to paper but straight onto a vinyl record. Record etching is something done by machines, we wanted to hand print art straight onto the record. Tom led the way by using rubber instead of lino or wood and with a bit of practice he has nailed it – now with two releases adorned, one being for The Melvins.

So once the music for Grieg was ready back in December 2014, I started to work out how to make myself an ‘Art Record’. keeping the release as handmade as possible, I sent the songs to Small Run Vinyl in Melbourne where Nathan Sawford handcuts vinyl records in limited specific amounts. He was also able to cut the songs onto clear vinyl. This part of the process was going to take a month or two so I then started with the cover art. I wanted a woodcut print that could be the cover and also be removed and framed (if that was your thing).

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The print had to be of a shark. It was not by design that some of the songs left over from the record were about sharks and the ocean. I thought it would be cool to do a shark themed release both inside and out.

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Once the print was created, I then turned to the jacket. I often have elaborate and impractical ideas and the balance is seeing what I can affordably get away. I decided I wanted to shark print to have a water-like feel to it so I ordered some Stumptown 7inch envelopes  and once they arrived, cut out the front and inlaid a sheet of blue cellophane. Two or three hours a day, each day for several weeks, cutting, taping, and applying text and eventually the jackets were completed.

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By now it was mid February and so I sheepishly turned to cutting out the rubber for the vinyl print. The weird thing about the process is after seven years of carving hardwood, the rubber felt like a blade cutting through a single sheet of paper. It was so easy to cut I had to constantly stop myself from running the gouge straight through it.

Towards the end of February the vinyl arrived. Finally I got the chance to work on the part of the process I was most interested in. Printing onto records. The vinyl was cut with the music all on one side and the other side being completely blank and smooth. The scary part was that I needed a 100% success rate. The vinyl was expensive and I could not afford to muck up even one record. Seeing as I was printing by hand the clear vinyl would allow me to see the ink transfer so that I knew I would have a good print before removing the record from the block. I practiced a bit with perspex sheets and then spent two days printing the ‘other’ shark I had made.

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The printing was a success and almost three months later, the singles were pretty much done. I am really proud of how it turned out. It was a process that ended up being more costly and stressful than I anticipated but that’s part of learning new things and it was totally worth it…

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In total this took seven pairs of hands and several hundred hours over seven months to create this single. I’m really grateful to my bandmates for letting me make this. Ordering a standard record is pretty easy – making and inventing something that is unique and completely handmade by the band both inside and out is something I hope other people are into. I know I am.

It goes on sale Friday 6th March as an edition of 33 copies through the bands bancamp store – http://grieg.bandcamp.com/

I See A Darkness Group Exhibition opening today

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Opening today, I will be showcasing a series of woodcuts I have been working on over the last year. Themed around a series of near-death experiences I have had throughout my lifetime – this fits into the overall ‘Momento Mori‘ theme to the show.

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I will also have on me a couple of copies of a new artist book I have made. The book is called Ink and it is about woodcuts, tattoos and well… ink.

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I’m also trawling through the archives and will have some other older prints and creations of mine available.

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Check out previews of everyone’s work and more info at the facebook page for the show…

https://www.facebook.com/events/925657314129997/

Into The Light

 

There’s really a hundred different ways I could title this post. Today it will be this though. You might be noticing a patten here. A flurry of blog posts then nothing for months. Another flurry and then nothing and so on. Sorry, that’s just how it is really. Time to tell others is something I’m not good at factoring into my to-do list.

This is something I’ve been working on for almost a year now. In fact when I started it last November, I didn’t even know I was creating a series of interlinked woodcut prints. Sometimes the story evolves and writes itself as you go along. It was an unexpected conversation with a gentleman named John Dyer Baizley in February that not only gave this series focus but in no small part completely upended the way I have created my prints this year. It’s funny how a few well times words can ripple and grow inside your head until they change the way you look and approach everything you make. To me, I have John to thank for the prints below…
Pt.1
This first print was initially titled ‘When Lessons Go Unlearned’. It was a lamentation on the way I have in the past treated (or mistreated) my bones and my physical body. Let’s just say that as a kid, I often found out things the hard way and got to know the emergency ward of the Penrith Hospital pretty well.
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From there I started to consider some of the ‘near misses’ I have had throughout my life. A cat has nine lives, or so the story goes. If that’s the case then I most certainly do not have all nine left to toy with.
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These are shots of the test prints as they have come off the blocks. Each print is an exploration of my memories and thoughts of an exact moment in time. I won’t explain them here, maybe I’ll make an artist book some day soon and include the gory details there…
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This is half of the last chapter in the series. This is the block I finished and printed a few hours ago. There is also a red block to go with this black block. That will be next up on the to-do list.

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Plans are afoot to properly exhibit the whole series in December. More details of that when I have them though. That’s me for now. There will be more to share when I next have the time.

One Less On The ‘Things To Do In Life’ List

As someone who upon stumbling into adulthood discarded popular music for whatever I could find on the fringe that excited me, one name commonly underpinned most of what I was into. That name was Amphetamine Reptile Records (or AMREP for short). Unsane, The Jesus Lizard, The Melvins, Cows, Helmet and many more names were the most exciting bands that I had ever heard at the time – In some ways they still are almost two decades later.

Anyway, I’ll try to keep this post shorted than a novella. The music I make with my best friends is the also the music we love, informed by the music we love. So after playing music for only seven years, five of which were as part of No Anchor, AMREP head honcho Tom Hazelmyer (HAZEXXL to you) – who both new and had heard of my band – offered to release some of our music.

This my friends is about as lofty a musical aspiration as I’ve ever had!

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And here it is. On 10inchs of vinyl with as a bonus, two woodcuts of mine. A lot of work, sweat, organising, fear, excitement and elation went into this. I’m super proud of it. Below is some snaps of the prints coming together as well as the limited edition versions which had hand-printed covers by me. The standard edition was printed care of Matt at 7th Disaster Screeprinting

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I’d include a link to where you can buy it but upon it’s release back in June the entire edition of 500 sold out in about five hours. Not bad for a underground noiserock band from Brisbane Australia. The best I can offer is two filmclips made by HAZE. I liek to think of them as insights into his demented genius…

HAZE also did a version of the record with his linocut artwork (as opposed to my woodcut artwork)…

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I never thought my visual art or my music, both new things in my life would reap rewards like this. Remember, think big kids!

Black Birds Banksia

After my exhibition in Melbourne in May which due to the organising and such meant I didn’t carve any new work for a couple of months, I was finally able to turn my time towards some very important projects. The one at the top of the list was a commission piece for a fellow who had a very specific idea in mind.

What was requested was an exact species of (Yellow Tailed) Black Cockatoo and Banksia tree that grows in Tasmania – the place where this fellow grew up. Given that I had dabbled with (North QLD) Palm Cockatoo a while back I knew I could probably do a pretty good job with it’s Tasmanian cousin.

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This is a shot from my printing table as the first print came off the block. The fellow who commissioned the print was super happy with how it turned out and there was even talk of what his exclusive print might look like as a tattoo.

This was a hard image to carve with not only each Banksia leaf having to be carved out but a lot of detail. There’s always added pressure when you’re creating an image to somone’s specific request but I was also really happy with how this project turned out.