The Endless Fascination of Printmaking

transfer-print-on-fine-gold-backgroundThis is one of my hand-made transfer prints. It is part of a Brooklyn rooftop graffiti scene. The boy in the painting was appropriated by the artist, Chris Stain, from the photographer, Martha Cooper. Now I have appropriated it from Chris. Here I give the piece an old world, weathered charm, by transferring it onto a fine gold basecoat. For the final touch I scoured it gently with fine steel wool: I didn’t want the gold to take over from the drawings and other elements of the work.

If you are starting out in printmaking, you will find it is equally rewarding as well as frustrating. Working on intaglios, getting the lines right, distributing the ink in the right amount and in the right place may be all well and good, until you find you’ve used the wrong paper! Then you have to start all over again because the paper just refused to cooperate and help you create your masterpiece! But you learn from your mistakes. Printing is as much about the process as it is about the print. I’ve wasted many sheets of $28-$30 print paper trying to get a print right. I am still learning what works and what doesn’t. In all of this, the artist’s eye is most important. Watch Kiki Smith prove this point in the short video below.


Landscape Painter Extraordinaire

I cannot get enough of Lois Dodd’s paintings! Here are some more of them. These images are from Hyperallergic’s article, “Beer with a Painter.” (I first introduced the artist here.)

Dodd’s cow parsnip painting makes me think of the works of Jamaican painter, John Dunkley, and also of Alice in Wonderland. I have a few sketches of cow parsnips in one of my early Bay Area nature journals. These plants are on many of the Mid-Peninsula Regional Open Space’s lands. They will probably show up in some of my future paintings.

“Millbrook Village, Fall”


“Cow Parsnip in Early Stage of Bloom”


“Self-Portait in Green Window”


Lois Dodd: Painting the Ordinary World Around Her

Snow, Tree, Window
One of my favorite Lois Dodd pieces is “Snow, Tree, Window,” 2014. It is so quiet in its simplicity.

One of my favorite living landscape painters is Lois Dodd. I first learned about her through her affiliation with Cooper Union. Now 80-years old, Dodd still delights in the ordinary. Catch her New York show if you can. It runs through April 4th.

Photo credit: Alexandre Gallery

Island of the Dead: New York City’s Hart Island

Panorama showing Hart Island (lower right) and City Island (left) in 2010. The large land mass at the top of the picture is the borough of the Bronx (Photo credit:

Unless you are a prisoner, you won’t have access to this island, at least for now. Hart Island is the story of what happens when an indigent or homeless New York City resident dies. This island has been used as the City’s potter’s field since 1869. Its grave diggers are the prisoners of Rikers Island.

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Whales and Sharks Around The Big Apple

Dancing with glee!
Horse Head’s Happy Dance

Back in April 2013, I wrote an article that included information about the once terribly polluted Hudson River in New York State. Now the water near New York City is getting cleaner and the fish are finally returning. Now there are regular sightings of larger fish, like whales and sharks, that are following the food source. This is great news! Read about it here and also, take a look back in time at my April 2013 article, The River Road, Part Two.

For more of my Water series, visit:

Thanks for visiting!




Knowing Each Other

1- spectre with lights
Spectre (with lights) — without lights


As we head towards the end of the year, I find myself working more on my art, on learning how to use different materials and mediums and honing my drawing skills. Because of this new focus I have cut back on my nature and art writings. We Were Nothing will become a bi-monthly blog. My focus here has always been on art, nature and culture. That will not change.

Art Blog

Over at Funny Face Studio, the reverse of what is happening here at We Were Nothing is true. When I was focusing solely on painting as an art form I featured one or two works each month. Now that I am sketching and drawing, I have begun making weekly posts at Funny Face Studios. You can see my latest drawings and paintings there.

Knowing Each Other

Recently, I watched the celebrations surrounding the life and death of Nelson Mandela in South Africa. It made me realize how little many of us understand our world and world politics. Consequently, we barely know each other and we don’t know those that sociologists call “the other.” As I contemplate moving back into the education field, I am overwhelmed by the amount of work that needs to be done in our corner of the world. I find myself questioning the role of education and whether it still holds a promise for our under-served populations. As I search for my next place in education, I leave you with another short video. It is not a happy one like the one I presented in Art Spaces and City Places, but it too, holds hope and promise.

Here’s to a more equitable future. Happy Christmas and the best of the season to all. See you in two weeks.

The New Public:

The Power of Art

Tanya. Portrait By Phone, from Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s personal diary, 2011

New York — Ukraine — Los Angeles

Art lovers who know their history, particularly the history of the marginalized, will recall that moment in time when Nelson Rockefeller censored Diego Rivera. The artist had been commissioned to do a mural at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Rivera inserted a figure of Lenin into the work and Rockefeller insisted he remove it. The artist objected and the 63-foot long mural was demolished. That’s the 1930s for you. But this week, came news from Europe that Volodymyr Kuznetsov’s, “Koliivschina: Judgment Day” mural, commissioned by the Kiev Museum, Ukraine, was destroyed by its director. Why? Because the work depicts priests, judges and other figures burning in a vat of fiery red liquid. (Sounds like an updated version of Dante’s Inferno to me!). Oh, that’s Eastern Europe for you.

But wait! Remember that guy in Los Angeles, the museum director who destroyed the work that he commissioned Blu to do? In defense of his position, Jeffrey Deitchthe of MOCA, Los Angeles, said that Blu’s antiwar mural, located where it was, was insensitive to the neighborhood that includes a Veterans’ Affairs building and a memorial to Japanese American soldiers. Well, that is what happens when you commission artists to do works. You either tell them what they can or cannot paint or you take what you get! The great Bard of English literature, William Shakespeare, understood this concept very well.

Detail of offending Diego Rivera mural, recreated in Mexico by the artist. © Ramalama_22
‘Koliyivshchyna: Judgment Day’. © Volodymyr Kuznetsov
Blu’s anti-war mural. © Casey Caplowe

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For more on:

  • the Rivera mural visit:

Mammy and Myths, Oh Andy!

mammy -andy warhol

The Spectre that is Mammy

I had a friend in college. She loved big hooped earrings, watermelons and fried chicken. But for the four years I knew her, she insisted she hated them all. Her public persona when at school would not allow her to “let Whites see her as a mammy or an aunt Jemima.” Years after leaving college, I went to a barbecue at her house. There she was in the backyard eating watermelon and fried chicken. In her ears she sported a pair of over-sized gypsy hoops. What do you think of that?

Finally Meeting Mammy

I met my friend’s mammy in a Greenwich Village art gallery. There she sat in all her glory, staring at me from her perch. All done up in silkscreen and diamond dust, she and nine other “myth prints” sat next to their respective Polaroids. She wore a head scarf that was knotted into a bow atop her forehead, large hoop earrings, and had large, full lips. She sported a jet black face. Here was my friend’s bugaboo, minus the watermelons and fried chicken.

Until the Mammy print, I hadn’t paid much attention to the artist. He seemed to me an excellent print maker whose real goal was fame. In other words, he didn’t seem to be making art for the sake of making art. Instead, his creations were tied up in being famous in a kind of “Look at me! Look at what I can do!” type of art. How seriously could an under-twenty year old searching for meaning in life and in art, take such an artist? Was it even the artist’s business to seriously engage with me or anyone else? And then it happened: I started to hear little whispers, small talk about “Aunt Jemima” from the gallery crowd. Whatever his reason for including her in his repertoire of ten myths, he had begun a conversation, one that my friend was unwilling to have with me, a Caribbean immigrant. I was an outsider, times two.

Some 30 Years Later, Mammy at Stanford

Polaroid print of the real life model for the 1981 mammy print screen

Last weekend I went in search of the Warhol exhibition at Stanford’s Cantor Museum. It has been running since mid-February and closes at month’s end (on June 30th). Held as it is within the Freidenrich Family Gallery – where Stanford’s larger contemporary art holdings are showcased – it is easy to miss. The pieces that usually draw me to this gallery are the Isamu Noguchi sculpture, “Victim“, and paintings by Bay Area artists like Nathan Olivera. For this visit I went specifically to see the Warhols but of course, stopped to look at the Noguchi and Olivera as well.

The Warhol exhibition is entitled, “More Than Fifteen Minutes: Andy Warhol and Celebrity”. Had the curators been more creative in titling the show (instead of following the same old trajectory about Warhol), and had they mentioned the presence of the Mammy piece, I would have gone to see this show sooner. As it is, I almost missed it and that would have been a shame. Mammy thirty years ago and mammy today is still relevant. I had a lovely conversation with an elderly black guard who wanted to know, “Who is this Andy guy?” and “Doesn’t this mammy thing get your hackles up?”

Why hadn’t Stanford written a more stimulating advertisement than the one below?

As a Pop artist trained in advertising, Andy Warhol was obsessed with fame and the media. This exhibition features prints, drawings, and Polaroid photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Mao Tse Tung, Mick Jagger, and other contemporary icons, exploring ideas about fame, ephemerality, and the legacy of Andy Warhol. Approximately 24 works on display.

Does Stanford not believe in some of its own contemporary art shows? It does a better job advertising its Rodins and the feature exhibitions that it puts on in the Pigott Family Gallery on the main floor. This mammy print could have attracted a wider cross-section of viewers and maybe opened up a different kind of conversation about perceptions in America in the year two-thousand-and-thirteen. But the curators failed to mention the print in their announcements, choosing instead to focus on Monroe, Tse Tung and Jagger. Therein lies a huge part of the trouble with museums, art magazines and art critics: They don’t understand or try hard enough to attract a wide range of viewers and readers. Too often, they fail to engage in meaningful ways with the public and so, art remains a rarefied entity accessible only to certain types of people. It oughtn’t to be that way.

Although no mention was made of Mammy in any of the write-ups, she is the one that I spent most of my time with and she is the reason the guard and I had that conversation. Sure I was attracted to the Tse Tung and Jagger pieces, but it was she who held my attention. That guard recognized as did I, that in mammy, there is a bit of talk about us. That, for me, is the beauty of Warhol’s mammy. She exists.

A nice touch and a nod to the Cantor, is the covering up of the Polaroid that couldn’t withstand exposure to the light. If I wasn’t so taken up with the Mammy print, I would’ve remembered what was under the cloth. If I get back to the campus before the show closes, I’ll look again and let you know.

More Myth-Making: Andy and Jean-Michel, Provocateurs?

The following photographs are ©Andy Warhol Foundation. Make what you will of the last two. I see more historical baggage, perhaps meant to startle or simply to continue a conversation long begun in a Greenwich Village art studio. Long before there was ever a Black President named Barack Obama, there was this image of Africa and Africans and monkeys all tied together into one single entity. Here stands Jean-Michel Basquiat in a Warhol Polaroid, posing as a caricature, as a monkey. Over thirty years later comes a Black/African American president and both he and his wife are referred to as monkeys. Time marches on not at all.

“African Cemetery for Black Residents of Rye Town and Black Civil War Veterans”

Discovery in Greenwood Union Cemetery, Rye (NY)

About ten years ago, while jogging through the Greenwood Union Cemetery near my then home in Rye, New York, I stumbled upon a little mud track leading away from the cemetery. It led to another cemetery whose perimeter included a swamp (or wetlands, depending on how you look at it), Interstate 95 (I-95), and the Greenwood Union Cemetery. Drawn in at first by the mud track and then by the sign off to the side that declared this to be a historical site, I continued on to see what turned out to be the “African Cemetery for black residents of Rye town and black civil war veterans” dating from 1860 to 1964. The place was unkempt and on one side, quite noisy: This was where the cemetery abutted I-95.

sketch of entrance to black cemetery, rye (new york)

I had been jogging in Greenwood for quite some time and never before saw any sign of this second cemetery. I also never heard any of the noise from the highway when I jogged there.  Greenwood is a peaceful, serene, well manicured cemetery. It has a little stream or waterway running through it, some lovely mausoleums, including a few with stained glass windows, and tombstones that tell you that some of those interred there were descendants of the voyagers on The Mayflower. The “African” cemetery was, by contrast, poorly maintained, unkempt. Still, someone had taken care to place little American flags by some of the markers. I came back over the course of several months and took many photographs. I never saw another soul in that place, whereas on the other side where white was separated from black by a stone wall, there was always life and visitors and staff maintaining the grounds.

Today when I did a Google search I was quite happy to see that others had taken notice of this special little place and are now honoring its residents. It has been over ten years since I first stumbled upon the black, colored, African cemetery. Dearest little Vernita, your tombstone with the lamb is still etched in my memory. “Poor little lamb”, it said. You who had never seen Africa, who was born on American soil, who was but a baby when you passed on and straight out of this world, lay buried in a segregated cemetery in what the North designated to be an “African” cemetery.

A Tribute to the Veterans in a Segregated Northern Cemetery

I’ve misplaced many of the photographs that I took back when I discovered the place. But here are the tombstones of three veterans plus photographs of civilian residents of black Rye: mothers, babies, daughters, sons and grandparents that somehow remained in my files.

Above is the grave marker of Joseph Thomas, a Civil War veteran of the Connecticut Twenty-Ninth Colored Regiment, Company C. A few letters written by the men of this regiment can be accessed at

Below are the grave markers/tombstones of two more veterans,  Charles A. Francis, Jr., and Eugene Rogers. Both are veterans of World War I.

Private Charles A. Francis was a member of the “Harlem Hellfighters”. A good source of information on his infantry is to be found at

Eugene Rogers close up. Are you resting near your momma and poppa?
Abram and Hannah Francis, Husband and Wife

Here lies Abram Francis and his wife Hannah. He died in 1881, aged 79 years while she died in 1895 at age 88 years. Are you related to Charles A. Francis, the World War I veteran above?

Abram & Hannah Francis, i

Mary E. Harris

Mary E. Harris, 1890-1949. You lived to see World Wars I and II. How many men from your family were lost to those wars? What stories can you tell? And why so close to Eugene Rogers who died just one year after you did? Did you know each other? Were you friends? Relatives?

Mary A. Nash

And Mary A. Nash, you were but 18 years old when you died in 1896. What was your life like in the short years you spent on this earth? In 1892, when you were but 14 years old, “the number of lynchings in America had peaked at 230 and continued at rates of over 100 murders per year.” (See, Vassar College’s Website, Then too, the Southern states invented new measures to disenfranchise black voters, not unlike what happened all across the nation in the 2012 election campaign, Obama vs. Romney. Another damning fact about life in these here United States is that within a few months of your departure from this world, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld ‘separate but equal’, in its Plessy v. Furguson ruling. The irony of it all was that separate was anything but equal.

Harriet Branch

Little Harriet Branch, born September 9, 1905, died March 19, 1906. What struck you down during your 6th month of life? What things could you have done, would you have done, had you lived?

Harriet Branch, close up
Mother, Grandma and Grandpa


Up against I-95

With barely any space to spare, the I-95 highway runs up close to the “African” cemetery. I don’t remember it abutting the Greenwood Union Cemetery this close up at any point of its perimeter. Irrelevant? Coincidental?

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