Creative research is something that is often difficult to maintain. Too often an artist finds only a limited market for their work, or they may also find the process of promoting their work to a wider audience daunting. That’s why it’s important to support local venues that offer exhibition spaces that support this type of intellectual experimentation.
Massillon Museum’s Studio M is an exhibition space inside the museum that showcases the artistic talents of local, regional and national artists. The current exhibit, “Michael Gill: The Grownups Keep Talking / Nobody Knows Why,” is a strong example of why exhibition spaces like Studio M are so valuable and important to the Northeast Ohio community.
Michael Gill is a Cleveland-based writer and artist who is perhaps best known as the founder and executive director of the Collective Arts Network and editor / publisher of CAN Journal. His exhibit features woodcut prints from two of his books, “Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child” and “A Pocket Full of Change,” along with original examples of those books and others.
In his statement about the show, Gill says: “I came to woodcut and letterpress printmaking as a writer, in the midst of a career that began with poetry and evolved into long form journalism. When my children were beginning to read, what came out of me was writing for them. And it was the need to give them these stories and poems that drew me to learn how to set type, carve and print with blocks of wood, and ultimately make books. “
The resulting artwork is graphically interesting and brightly colored illustrations that correspond to the stories in Gill’s books. The pieces also hold on to interesting aspects that are unique to the woodcutting technique. Features like wood grain and the marks of the woodcutting tools are embraced and used to enhance the chosen imagery.
“He Wanted to Finish the Job“is a color woodcut artist’s proof from 2018. It corresponds to a particular passage in Gill’s book” A Pocket Full of Change, “which is available to look through in the Studio M gallery.
In the image a child rides a bike on a tree-lined street that has different styles of houses on it. The houses, trees and bike rider are all done in black ink. The sky behind the scene is blue, and a shaft of yellow light from the sky illuminates the bike rider. Other colors are used too: gray for the street and red for one of the houses.
It’s an approachable and joyful image that, like all of the work included in the show, utilizes wood grain as an interesting textural element.
“His Mind Was on the Boxcars“is a color woodcut artist’s proof from 2015. This work also corresponds to Gill’s book” A Pocket Full of Change. “
The piece features images of red box cars with a red caboose. On the caboose is a graffiti painting of a face with what looks like a graffiti tag next to it. In the foreground are railroad tracks done in gray, and the background features a blue sky with the wood grain pattern showing through. This “sky bound” wood grain substitutes nicely as a representation of clouds.
Certainly, one of the most intriguing aspects of this exhibit is the way in which the woodcuts interact with their corresponding texts. For the most part the text is presented as a wall label in place of what would be a corresponding page in a book. On other occasions the text and the imagery are featured all on the same page using movable type. It’s interesting because one format is obviously sequential, and the other is presented more like a stand-alone poster. This aspect helps to create an interesting literary and visual interplay as you walk around the gallery and read and engage with the work.
“Red Pipe Wrench“is a color woodcut with movable type from Gill’s book” Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child. ” You can also peruse this book in the gallery. Therefore, you can see it presented with the text on the opposite page or, as in this instance, with the text just below it.
The woodcut features a red plumber’s wrench, blue needle-nose pliers, an orange handled screwdriver, copper wire, hammers, and drawings of scraps of wood and small screws. The text of the corresponding poem helps to describe what is being depicted. Like all of Gill’s pieces in the exhibit, there is a joy in making with this work that is palpable. There are important thoughtful and even formal aesthetic and compositional choices being made as well.
While the books in this exhibit may have been made for children, the imagery, techniques and ideas are still very serious. It is, in part, the clear commitment to this avenue of artistic research, the different important attributes of the artist’s writing and Gill’s interest in using the woodcut and letterpress printmaking processes that make this exhibit so compelling.
Anderson Turner is director of the Kent State University School of Art collection and galleries. Contact him at [email protected]
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Exhibit: “Michael Gill: The Grownups Keep Talking / Nobody Knows Why”
Place: Massillon Museum’s Studio M, 121 Lincoln Way E, Massillon
Dates: Through June 1
Hours: 9:30 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday; 2 to 5 Sunday; closed Monday and major holidays
More information: 330-833-4061 or massillonmuseum.org