right now!     ian g. cozzens updates, news, photos, and thoughts

police! stop judging people by their skin color

May 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm

I am excited to have been part of this rally against racial profiling — actually, a rally to push the RI state legislature to get the long-delayed racial profiling bill out of committee and passed — that PrYSM, a Providence youth activism organization, put together. I also got to help make some signs: yaknow, drawing letters freehand, my favorite thing to do!

PrYSM is a great organization & their collaborative campaign against racial profiling, especially profiling of youth, is really strong. They made this video, Fitting The Description, to talk about why they are working on what they are working on:

Here’s one of the signs I made, note the piece on the right-hand side cut off the left-hand side & taped on when I ran out of room to finish the word “profiling”, ha!

…and captured in action during the protest. Photos by Tina Meetran.

The man carrying the sign in the photo above is a former police officer… !

This sign went back to PrYSM’s office with the others, but I watched one of the protest attenders walk away with the other sign, the one that says “Police…” Who knows whether he was into it, or it was just an absentminded acquisition? I hope the former — it is always an honor when any of my work finds a resonance with somebody — but you never know.

duotone, finally

May 28, 2012 at 2:22 am

I’ve been working on this Recycle-A-Bike poster for probably a year… but I realized I hadn’t ever posted any images to this blog yet. So here goes! [n.b. I have actually finished printing this poster now!]

Here are the duotone transparencies that I prepared literally almost a year ago for printing out: the darker color is on the left & the lighter color is on the right. (There is a line grid in the background so that I could align the hands once I had cut them apart — Faces does the most accurate transparency printing in town as far as I can tell, and they do not underprice their work, so it was important to keep the printing area to under 8.5″x14″… so I had to consolidate the hands onto one sheet & then cut them apart to put them where I wanted them on the actual transparencies I used to expose the screens. Once the hands were in place & aligned with each other, I scratched the light lines off the plastic.)

(Oh yeah, when I do a duotone thing again, and thus have to figure out how to do it all over again, I will make a tutorial post… except my version of photoshop is 7 years old! but maybe it will still be useful to some…)

Close-up of duotones. This is confusing because what you’re looking at is the screen for the lighter color (open yellow areas on pink solid background) with the transparency for the next color, the darker color (black dots on clear plastic) top of it… so it doesn’t look at all like it will look when printed, since the lighter color is somewhat “in negative” here. But you can see that the angles of the halftone patterns are different, thus making a “rosette” instead of a weird-looking moiré pattern!

My mom would call this the “art shot” — macro-focus, looking through the screen at a light source, showing a closeup of the freewheel gears (exposed from hand-cut rubylith) and the hand holding the gears (exposed from digitally-printed transparency).

Okay, printing! This is the first color, it was a rainbow roll from one blue to another… I can’t get away from the multiple rainbow rolls over each other, it’s kind of a gimmick but it just offers too many possibilities… (like this, I mean, this isn’t a screenprint but look at Buck Hastings jacking my style/inspiring me all over again as usual!!!)

This layer is all rubylith, yeah I cut all those little gears out by hand, yargle bargle

Second color! Some people who’ve seen this print have said “it’s so flat, usually your work has a lot more visual depth & perspective in it…” and it’s true, that’s what I was trying to do! and/or just to change up my usual way of working… and/or to free myself from creating something that “looked like” what it was “supposed to”… and/or to make a lil homage to the Stenberg brothers who are kind of the seminal crowd faves in iconic graphic poster making, and were my direct inspiration for combining photographic collage with graphic solid color elements in this poster…

In the photo below, you can see really clearly something that Emmy Bright and I have been calling “halftone thinking”: using one ink color to get two tones, one of them solid, one of them made up of dots, dashes, lines, or some kind of pattern. You can do this by hand drawing, making those marks with ink… or by photocopying a pattern & collaging it… or by using an photograph made into actual halftones! In this image, there are four (or maybe five?) graphic tones created by just the yellow ink on the ‘natural’ paper, in different patterns:

Okay that’s it for now, more photos of finished poster soon, and you’ll probably see it around town if you’re here in Prov. Spring is choogling along, being physically alive is pretty awesome, swimming biking dancing doing movement exercises pushing the possibilities of my body getting stronger!!!

“Ferdinand’s” department store building, Roxbury, Mass. When faced with the question of “How will we make our dilapidated landmark building look like a really cool graphic poster image, and keep the pigeons out, while waiting to find out if we can get funding to renovate it or if we’ll have to tear it down?”, these people came up with the #1 absolutely correct answer! I don’t know anything about this project or building, but this is a quite stunning (hopefully temporary) solution to what must be a really frustrating situation… go Roxbury!

oh cleanup

May 15, 2012 at 12:37 am

I realized my room/studio (where I draw) is messy to the point of being un-usable. As in, it’s hard to stay in there & I feel like all the piles are going to fall down on me when I try to work at the desk. Which is the drawing place, the place where it should be really enjoyable to spend time because drawing is the most fun part of my work… right? So why is this place the most intimidating / feels the most precarious of any place in my house??? And, even worse, how long has it felt this way without me articulating it as such?

No pictures, it’s too embarrassing / sensitive. Now I’m wrapped up in cleanup / hopeful paradigm shift for my workspace. And things unrelated to work are going great! Even this cleanup hopefully signals/echoes the start of some new times & a different relationship to the physical scenario around me… will check in in a day or two with cleanup update… if I don’t get buried under piles… !

squashy takeover & transparent rainbows

May 8, 2012 at 8:02 pm

This year’s Plant Sale poster is done! (Thanks to SCLT for their patience, and to my cousin (letterpress master) Dan Wood for cutting the edges off the prints for me super late-nite / lastminute!) Guess how much fun it was to draw these windows???

It features some of my (and possibly your) favorite buildings in Providence being re-inhabited by a terrifying-yet-friendly giant yellow squash plant. No full shots yet, you’ll have to catch a glimpse of one around town, but don’t steal them down till after the event on May 19th & 20th!

These posters keep getting sexier & sexier, says “one who knows“…

Here’s a moment in the process from about a week ago, when I was drawing the final ‘key’ layer with ink onto wet media mylar (plastic which is treated to hold the ink & not let it run). I mostly used a nib pen, but a couple of Rapidograph pens (passed down from my Grandpa, #1 & #00) are crucial tools for the tiny details. Then to correct blobs & mistakes, clean up lines, and also to create light in the dark areas, I scratch the dried ink away with the back of the blade of my trusty lil’ Olfa knife… Here you can see the pencil drawing underneath, layered with a sheet of tracing paper where I was working out the balance & rhythm of the large color shapes (of yellow squashes & green leaves) across the paper:

Also, each of the three layers in the print was a rainbow roll, which I’ve discussed in the past, but this is this new style where I do one transparent rainbow roll layer over a solid rainbow roll layer… and then a rainbow roll key outline layer. (As seen in this print from a year ago…) Something about the subtlety / complexity of those shifting layers overlapping each other turns out kind of incomprehensible & thus, it seems, pretty amazing.

Ink ready (those are three colors of transparent ink in the foreground, then a jar with water in it for washing off mixing spoons behind them):

On the screen, blending the colors together:

Then printed over the blue layer:

Here’s a tiny detail when ink on the final layer was still wet, and the early morning sunlight was coming in the studio window, showing how the ink sits bumpily on the paper (click for larger, it’s worth it!):

And, speaking of process, here’s what my past few weeks have been like:

To all my friends, including new/future friends as well as old friends, I’m really sorry for dropping off the face of the planet into this total screenprint work zone, please excuse my neglect of you / our friendship & know that I am eating mint-chocolate-chip ice cream in the middle of the night while I draw at a desk in a messy room, and thinking of you.

<3 ian

revisiting history

May 7, 2012 at 3:20 am

I got an email this past week from a journalist-type person asking if I would answer some questions about my artistic interest in industrial landscapes & why “creative types” like myself find them inspiring. Despite being in deadline mode, I carved out some time to write back. It’s not a perfectly crafted piece of writing or anything, but I was glad to get to re-think some ideas from earlier writings (2006, 2009) on my relationship with the industrial spaces around me.

I was also excited to write about problems with capitalism for a story about “how industrial cities like Providence are drawing new residents” — which I assume takes as a baseline that development & capitalist progress are good things. (That might be a mistaken assumption — we’ll see when the piece comes out — but I know my work has been used to justify capitalist development projects in the past…)

The questions were about what drew me to Providence, and about my & other artists’ finding artistic inspiration in old industrial sites.

My answers were, again, not perfect, but turned out interesting enough to post here. (At the bottom are some links to mind-blowing interviews I’ve been listening to recently, super necessary, don’t miss them!)

I came to Providence in 1999 to attend the Rhode Island School of Design, after three years in Chicago attending & dropping out of the University of Chicago, waiting tables, & doing theater tech. Re-applying to art schools, my other option was in Manhattan, and I chose Providence after a conversation with an older artist about how not being in a big city gives you time & space to focus & figure out who you are & what kind of work you want to make. Ultimately this was a good instinct, as I feel that my education as an artist and a person has come mainly from Providence & from the communities I’ve become involved in here, rather than from RISD!

In 2001, I got involved in a struggle to save a group of historic industrial buildings from demolition, initially under an inarticulate, historic-preservation-y, “I love these old decrepit buildings, they are so beautiful, it’s so sad to see them get knocked down!” feeling. This emotion quickly developed into standing up for the rich potential engendered by cheap & flexible spaces that provided places for artists to live for little money while making whatever kind of work & noise they needed, as well as places for other project/business initiatives that didn’t necessarily fall under the “art” umbrella, but were equally important to a lively city full of possibility.

Suddenly I found I had a political stance about local initiative from below vs. corporate development imposed from above. My awareness rapidly expanded further to include an understanding of capitalist development & gentrification as affecting more than just “artists” but entire neighborhoods, especially Black & Hispanic populations who were seen as not-worthwhile, un-important residents by the city government, developers, & police. So my initial attraction to the beauty of these old industrial buildings led me to a very intensely humanist and radical political stance about the value of every person’s life & the unjustness of a system that reduces us to what we produce and purchase, that attempts to control us based on nationality, ethnicity, or class.

I love old buildings (not just industrial buildings, but any building made by hand and/or before the onset of mass-manufactured building materials, roughly pre-World War II) for the strangeness of their dimensions, the way every one is different, the ways they’ve been changed over time through being lived in, used, & modified… These slight differences, the visible effects of aging and living, connect them to our bodies and to us, they feel human like us, we give them the metaphorical attributes of our own structure (outer protective skin, windows as eyes, internal intimacy, etc)… Newer buildings, about which the construction decisions are made according to the pre-determined machine dimensions of their materials, are less compelling and have less correspondence to our human lives…

In Western/European society, there’s a extremely long tradition of artists & weirdos being drawn to ruins, decrepit areas, and decay as an inspiration for their work — the Italian Renaissance (which was inspired by digging up Roman-era ruins & scuplture), Dürer’s & Piranesi’s engravings, the European Romantic poets & artists, British landscape architects creating fake picturesque ruins on the estates of rich landowners… (to name the examples that come immediately to mind, I am not really an art-historian…!). I see the artists currently working on imagery of decaying industrial buildings as a continuation of this fascination with ruins, for the same reasons as Western artists since the 1400s — because they bring our humanity and our mortality clearly to mind. For instance… wandering through a decrepit building evokes our imaginations of the lives that have been lived in its now-empty spaces. As the structure is exposed through decay, the craft of the human labor that has gone into it is eloquently revealed. The invasion of moisture, rot, and growing plants make clear the ultimate futility of humans’ bold attempts to create things, and the building’s final collapse shows what will be the inevitable result of our continuing efforts to create right angles and vertical walls.

So all this stuff has a long-standing place in our cultural imagination, our Western/European concepts of human vs. natural, death vs. life, chaos vs. order, etc. Right now, there is especially fertile ground for US artists inspired by these buildings: the scale and hubris of 19th- & 20th-century US industrial development and its subsequent rapid collapse following the multinationalization of corporations, the exploitation of non-unionized workers around the world, and the abandonment of industrial installations here in North America. Buildings built 70 to 140 years ago, which stopped being carefully maintained in the 1960s or 70s, are quickly reaching the end of their structural life, and I appreciate the initiative of skilled photographers and artists who are rushing to document these soon-to-be-lost places!

I think there’s also a growing awareness of the irrelevancy and destructiveness of 20th-century capitalism, and these buildings are a relic of & metaphor for how capitalism’s ideology of progress — and the revelation of the emptiness and disaster behind that ideology — have utterly changed our world in the past 200 years. This is our history, embodied in these structures, so we are working with it & processing it through art. In my own work I find myself turning away from documenting or romanticizing these old buildings. Even though I feel their beauty & emotion, I’m more interested in imagining a future beyond and past and separate from capitalism… what do we build next? If we can use & re-inhabit these old structures, great! But we still have to keep living, whether it’s in the ruins or on the ground where they have crumbled, so how do we deal with their polluted history (literally and figuratively, chemically & emotionally) and work towards reclaiming our lives & supporting our friends & building new families and societies? To echo Durruti, workers built those buildings in the first place, so we can build new & more beautiful things if those are destroyed. That’s what I find myself thinking about these days…

So yeah, this is me remembering that I am a political artist, & feeling more politicized now than ever (mostly thanks to amazing friends / conversation partners / co-conspirators!). Listening (and re-listening, and re-listening) to amazing interviews with Judith Butler and with Dean Spade & Eric A. Stanley while printing Plant Sale posters this last week… Also along similar lines, I got to see some David Wojnarowicz screenprints today! Whoa. Extra super inspired about the possibilities of and necessity for political art… hopefully I can actually accomplish & work on the things I am thinking about…

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