Welcome back. Last week I shared with you a very special piece-Drunk Driving. In the process of creating the piece I found and borrowed heavily from the techniques of Marshal Arisman. I loved and still love the emotional content that his work captures. But I was also attracted to and inspired by the way he talked (and still does) about illustration. I love his parables and tales that mix art with magic.
A few months after I finished Drunk Driving, The Center for Creative Studies was in the process of becoming the College of Creative Studies. Each department was going through different accreditation processes. To help the illustration department in this transition, who should they bring in? None other than Mr. Arisman, head of the School of Visual Arts’ MFA Illustration program. And even though Mr. Arisman was there to help with accreditation, the illustration department managed to put together a demonstration of his technique on monoprints.
The demonstration was held over in the Fine Arts department. They had nice print making room; one that I had become familiar with while taking a 1 credit class to fill out some of my transfer requirements. It was a place that I would escape back to every now and then. I found the solace in the process of print making. So, I can tell you that I was pretty excited to be in there watching Mr. Arisman work while sitting around with thirty or so of my fellow classmates and instructors.
I do not remember the topic of his print. Nor do I remember any special trick or tip that he used. But I remember parts of his stories. He talked about growing up in a gypsy town in Upstate New York. He claimed he could see auras. He told a tale of an African tribe that made masks. He talked about a summer where his energy was out of alignment and how it caused him to combust his paint rags. He put on a slide show later that night where he told some different tales of art and magic and where he played his saxophone-his proven technique of aligning his energy.
That semester I was taking Editorial Illustration with Cathy Gendron. About the same time that Mr. Arisman visited CCS Cathy had hit us with the assignment of creating a cover for Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Even back in school, I found myself to be a literal illustrator. I liked drawing scenes or David Grove inspired montages from my subject matter. I could not find that in the Howl. The imagery is there but it comes so hard and fast. It’s dark. It’s gritty. It hits you upside the head. And it keeps coming!
The Howl is a poem with hundreds of lines of allusions, any of which could be the description for a singular and powerful illustration. But one line is not the sum of the whole. As a literal illustrator I was forced to look beyond the allusions. I had to dig through the dark and gritty to find the fabric of the piece. I had to read through the raw emotions of one man challenging the popular perceptions of his culture. In the end I found the rhythm and energy of the poem. And that is what I decided to illustrate.
As a literal illustrator I knew I couldn’t pull this piece off. So I turned back to the techniques of the one illustrator that I knew could handle these kinds of emotions-Mr. Arisman. Having just gone through his monoprint workshop and being frustrated with and assignment that was so outside of my own artistic comfort zone, I felt it was a great excuse to return to the print making room. In the course of a night I made 4 plates, 5 prints (as I ghosted the piece below). I approached the work much like I did Drunk Driving; by using my fingers, rags, and Q-tips. I physically pounded the energy into my work.
I have encountered Mr. Arisman twice since his visit to CCS, once by design and once by coincidence. In 2004, my wife and I were in a long distance relationship. I was living in Michigan and she was in San Francisco. We had decided that in order for our relationship to grow we needed to move in with each other. The topic of location was discussed and debated over the summer. Eventually New York was chosen for various reasons. Among those was the opportunity for me to go to Grad School. I headed out to New York in October of 04. Within two weeks of being in the city I had scheduled a tour of Mr. Arisman’s MFA program at SVA. That was my first time meeting him since Detroit.
I did not go to the SVA. I never even applied. I ended up in the inaugural class of FIT’s MA in Illustration program. Just a week before our Senior Show, after our classes were out, I had to run some of my work down to FIT’s museum. As I left the school, out of the crowd of Mid-Town, who should I run into but one Marshal Arisman.