Historical Item

Excerpts from The Nature of Paleolithic Art (2005)

The Nature of Paleolithic Art by R. Dale Guthrie (2005, The University of Chicago Press). (Photo shows Paleolithic hand stencils from El Castillo, Spain)

Art behavior evolved for creativity, the same way that lungs evolved for breathing. (p. 391) Creativity is something more than just doing things differently or unconstrained novelty. It is about beautiful alternatives within apt constraints. (p. 397) I suspect much of it [cave art] was done at a time in life when creative play provided the most fun. So calling it “art for art’s sake” may not be quite accurate. (p. 399) Paleolithic art certainly appears to me to be less “meaning-full,” less belief bound, and more a matter of individual perception and experiment. (p. 433) Paleolithic art is a silent touch from distant ancestors, their marks are a reminder of our own vitality and mortality, a prompter to savor our present in this ancient arena of life…. The truly good message from Paleolithic art is that one would be wise to play: play physically, play mentally, and, above all, play artfully. (p. 460)

How Were Negative Handprints Made? (p. 118)

How the images of these Paleolithic handprints were produced remained a controversial puzzle for decades. Casteret (1934) was the first to propose that they were made from liquefied pigment sprayed on with the mouth. During the 1960s and 1970s several researchers presumed that spraying pigments onto cave walls probably required some sort of device like a blowpipe or hollow tube. But Pedel (1975) and Barriere (1976) championed direct blowing with the mouth as the main process…. Both Groenen (1987) and Lorblanchet (1991) have argued that complicated paraphernalia are not necessary. Rather, all that is needed is to nibble off a bit of common oxide pigment or charcoal and to spit a fine spray on the wall. It requires a little practice, mainly the knack of spitting tiny amounts in little high-pressure sput-sput-sput fine jets. At its best, this results in a smoothly graded spray, like a modern airbrush. Of course, many images were made hastily with cruder, spit-splatter-spray glops of pigment chunks here and there.

While many hand images are well made (they are the ones usually reproduced in coffee-table art books), most are rather rudimentary and incomplete. Some are hardly recognizable, with one or two jets of ocher leaving a faint negative of two fingers without terminal ends. That is why different scholars provide different lists of caves with handprints or have had widely varying estimates of total handprint numbers for the same cave - it depends on what level of smear one counts as a hand.

I encourage you to try this method of hand stenciling at home. Use red powdered cake coloring, not ocher, as the latter is inordinately difficult to clean off your face. The best result is had by keeping the mouth about 20 centimeters away from the hand and background. It takes only a minute per hand. The most rudimentary Paleolithic ones may have been done in a matter of seconds.

David King, Crass Symbol Designer, Dead at 71

David King, San Francisco Artist Who Designed Iconic Crass Emblem, Dies at 71
Sam Lefebvre Oct 22 (KQED)

David King, the San Francisco artist best known for designing the English punk band Crass’ iconic and widely reproduced anti-establishment emblem, died at home Thursday following a years-long fight with cancer, his frequent publisher Colpa Press confirmed to KQED. He was 71.

The English-born designer, photographer and musician, who moved to San Francisco in 1982, created what would become known as the Crass symbol—a stencil-friendly design incorporating a cross and what he called a “diagonal, negating serpent” with two heads—more than 40 years ago to criticize the mixture of church and state. He also participated in New York’s Downtown scene of the 1980s and the Mission School milieu the next decade in San Francisco.

The “explosive and memorable image” has “acquired a ubiquitous independence as a sign of protest,” design historian Steven Heller writes in a new book of King’s work. A popular tattoo, the symbol is perhaps rivaled only by Black Flag’s logo in subcultural prominence. It’s also been appropriated for commercial purposes, moving King in recent years to revisit the stark symbol in various publications and exhibitions with color and levity that better reflects his work’s tone.

“David’s iconic symbols were a badge of authenticity in the underground scenes across the globe in the pre-internet era, recognizable at 65 mph on the back of a squatter punk meandering down an alleyway at four in the morning,” writes the artist Barry McGee, who King met at the San Francisco Art Institute, in Gingko Press’ new David King Stencils. “What symbol has even come remotely close to so immediately showing one’s allegiance to an ideology or attitude?”

King, remembered for his poise and sharp dress, was born in the United Kingdom on April 10, 1948. In a 2013 interview with this writer, he described being attracted to the “riots” and “beacons” of color in commercial designs on comic books and candy wrapping amid the grey, post-war cityscape. Mod fashion of the 1960s was more to his liking, and King attended art school from 1964 to 1967.

In college King met the artists eventually known as Penny Rimbaud and Gee Vaucher of Crass, afterwards working as a graphic designer. At the inception of punk, he gravitated towards stencils, subverting the militaristic style to promote peace. In 1977 at the communal Dial House near London, King encouraged Rimbaud to write down his criticisms of the state’s propagation of Christian values through public education, leading to the pamphlet Christ’s Reality Asylum.

New Uploads for Pollen-filled Sunsets

Submission thanks to: TXMX, Josiah, Brooklyn Street Art, Mission Local, and Jeremy Novy
Vinyl backup by: Pink Floyd, Animal Collective, and Tom Waits
Photo: color snap of Bear and Bob Thomas' original Grateful Dead logo stencil (1970, WI)

The rest of the CDMX stencils

akore (just one)

A few from C215

>NEW< leni (Hamburg)

liebsein

>NEW< marie (Hamburg)

marshal arts

pirho (just one)

raf urban

>NEW< STeW (FR)

>NEW< jaune (BE)

toxicomano (just one)

>NEW< unklar (DE)

A few from Basque

A few from Hamburg

Just one from France

A few from Spain

Louisiana

Historical 1970 stencil from Wisconsin

Eclair’s mural on Divisadero

Nice one from YON in SF

The Mission (just one)

On Valencia St. (just one)

Peter Kuper Mentions Stencils

Excerpted from "Peter Kuper: Conversations," edited by Kent Worcester, from a 2009 interview with Kuper by Christopher Irving (pp. 76-77).

Your stencil style: How do you go about doing that?

Kuper: I photocopy my pencil drawings, and then cut a stencil out of the photocopy paper. I spray them with enamel spray paint, not an airbrush, so I can pick up one can, put it down, and then spray another fast.

How did you first arrive at using stencils for comic book art?

Kuper: My lifelong pal, Seth Tobocman turned me on to them. I was looking at an illustration he did this way and it rang my bell. It was apparently a very loud bell, because that was in 1988 and here, to this day, I'm still doing stencils. At this point, I feel like I want to move away from spray paint because of its toxic nature. The irony of doing pieces on our degraded environment using aerosol sprays is too much.

Spy vs. Spy is done in stencils, right?

Kuper: I did it in stencils when they asked me to try out for the job figuring they wouldn't go for it. I didn't want to try to mimic the style of [Antonio] Prohias', I thought that "If I'm going to do this, I'll do something that's different. I thought they'd thank me for my kooky approach, bid me adieu and I'd go on my merry way." When they said, "You got the job," I thought I'd probably just do it for a year. I'm in my thirteenth year of Spy vs. Spy.

Do you do these stenciled comics a panel at a time, or the whole page?

Kuper: I do it a page at a time. I usually spray a base in red and black. I spray the red paint first and then spray the black on top of it, which gives a glow of the red under the black. Occasionally I do more than one stencil per piece, but not that often. I'm experimenting now with rolling or brushing on acrylic paint with a stencil.

Later in the book, Seth Tobocman briefly mentions stencils in the 2014 interview with Steven Heller (p. 100)

Tobocman: I learned about stencils and street art from Anton Van Dalen and Michael Roman....

40,000-year-old cave art in Indonesia

40,000-year-old cave art may be world's oldest animal drawing
The Southeast Asian island of Borneo joins a growing number of sites boasting early cave art innovation.
BY MAYA WEI-HAAS
PUBLISHED NOVEMBER 7, 2018 (LINK)

COUNTLESS CAVES PERCH atop the steep-sided mountains of East Kalimantan in Indonesia, on the island of Borneo. Draped in stone sheets and spindles, these natural limestone cathedrals showcase geology at its best. But tucked within the outcrops is something even more spectacular: a vast and ancient gallery of cave art.

Hundreds of hands wave in outline from the ceilings, fingers outstretched inside bursts of red-orange paint. Now, updated analysis of the cave walls suggests that these images stand among the earliest traces of human creativity, dating back between 52,000 and 40,000 years ago. That makes the cave art tens of thousands of years older than previously thought.

But that's not the only secret in the vast labyrinthine system.

In a cave named Lubang Jeriji Saléh, a trio of rotund cow-like creatures is sketched on the wall, with the largest standing more than seven feet across. The new dating analysis suggests that these images are at least 40,000 years old, earning them the title of the earliest figurative cave paintings yet found. The work edges out the previous title-holder—a portly babirusa, or “pig deer,” in Sulawesi, Indonesia—by just a few thousand years.

“In the entrance, there's a little chamber to the right, and it's there—bam,” says archaeologist Maxime Aubert of Griffith University. It's not the earliest cave art ever found. But unlike earlier scribbles and tracings, these paintings are unequivocal depictions of ancient animals, his team reports today in the journal Nature.

The bovines and handprints join a growing array of artwork of similar age that adorns the walls of caves around the world. These paintings mark a shift in how early humans thought about and engaged with their environment—from focusing on survival and daily mundane necessities to cultivating what could be the earliest threads of human culture, explains Paleolithic archeologist April Nowell of the University of Victoria.

“I think for a lot of us, that's a true expression of human-ness in the broadest sense of that word,” she says.

Neanderthals Made Hand Stencils in Europe

By Deborah Netburn
Feb. 22, 2018
LA Times
<< Photo: A color-enhanced hand stencil from Spain’s Maltravieso cave, likely made by a Neanderthal. Photo courtesy of the University of Southampton.

A red hand stencil. A series of lines that look like a ladder. A collection of red dots.

These images, painted in ocher on the walls of three separate caves in Spain, are the oldest-known examples of cave art ever found. And new research suggests that all three were created not by humans, but by our ancient cousins the Neanderthals.

In a paper published Thursday in Science, an international team of archaeologists shows that each of the three paintings was executed at least 64,000 years ago — more than 20,000 years before the first modern humans arrived in Europe.

“This work confirms that Neanderthals were indeed using cave walls for depicting drawings that had meaning for them,” said Marie Soressi, an archaeologist at Leiden University in the Netherlands who was not involved in the study. “It also means that our own group, the one we call anatomically modern humans, is maybe not so special.”

For most of the last century, researchers have argued that our Neanderthal cousins were intellectually inferior to their modern human contemporaries — incapable of symbolic thought and possibly devoid of language. This, in turn, was used to explain why the Neanderthals disappeared from Eurasia about 40,000 years ago, not long after modern humans arrived there.

However, archaeological evidence revealed over the last two decades tells a different story. We now know that Neanderthals were sophisticated hunters who knew how to control fire, and that they adorned themselves with jewelry and took care to bury their dead.

Masters of the Pochoir

Masters of the Pochoir
A tour d'horizon, by Paul Zwartkruis (Netherlands)
For The Writer's Drawer
<<< Hand movements with the pompom at the Jacomet atelier

Pochoir: “the most versatile and luxurious reproduction process in modern time"
John Bidwell, curator of the Graphic Arts Collection at Firestone Library

Picasso, Braque, Van Dongen, Miro, Matisse, Dufy, Léger, Modigliani, Rouault and many other artists worked in Paris in the first half of the 20th century. They asked other people to make hand-crafted illustrations of their work – pochoirs. The artists had rediscovered this technique, which is of Japanese origin. They thus added an unparalleled quality to contemporary colour illustrations.

Pochoirs are highly realistic, manual reproductions of works of art. But it was not the artist himself who made the pochoirs. The technique was far too complicated. In about 50 specialized workshops in Paris female colourists produced these gems, which are characterized by a marvellous vibrancy of colour. Various templates, brushes and paint (water-gouache, silver or gold paint) were used in order to achieve this effect. For a simple pochoir, some figures or texts were cut from thin metal foil or plastic. These stencils were then placed on paper or some other surface. Nowadays, street artists such as Banksy and Vhils frequently use this reproduction technique when creating their art.

Michael Roman (1956-2016)

Generous, Prolific, “Loco” – Stencil Artist Michael Roman Dies at 60
By Laura Waxmann (Mission Local) Posted December 29, 2016
Here is Michael's Stencil Archive.
KQED also has an article about the life of Michael Roman.
<< Photo by Linda Wilson


In art and in life, Michael Roman was a man of many layers, colorful visions and haunting complexities.

The stencil artist and silkscreen printmaker, best known for layered prints depicting cultural and political icons, died on Monday, succumbing to severe health complications. He was 60 years old.

Three months ago, Roman was out to see a movie with his partner of six years, Kate Rosenberger, when he suddenly began heaving and panting heavily.

The movie date ended with a three-week hospital stay for Roman, said Rosenberger. It was then that doctors discovered lesions on his brain, that two of his heart valves had stopped functioning, and that a “massive tumor” had taken hold of his right kidney, she said.

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