The relationship between humanity and nature has recently been characterized by extreme swings of give and take. Headlines about the Gulf oil spill and annual wildfires in California seem to illustrate an ever-present tension between Mother Earth and her human inhabitants. But these instances of friction, which explode into the national consciousness like disquieting showers of sparks, are not indicative of man’s true relationship with the environment. At least, that’s one interpretation of the art of Sean Caulfield.
Caulfield, Canada Research Chair in Printmaking and Professor in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta, and his wife Akiko Taniguchi, also an accomplished artist, gave a lecture September 23 entitled “Printmaking: Across Disciplines, Between Cultures” to headline the Art Gallery exhibition “Prints Around the Pacific Rim.” The exhibition, which lasts through November 17th, features work by Caulfield, Taniguchi, and artists from New Zealand, Australia, Japan, and the United States (Hawaii).
Many of Caufield’s works tie personal experience to nature. Pondering the question “what is our connection to the ecosystem?” Caufield frequently goes on short sojourns from civilization, taking notes on his surroundings and later returning to the studio to create etchings inspired by his memories of the experience.
Using mezzotint, wood engraving, and sketching, Caulfield creates intricate pieces that depict objects and scenes ranging from science to pure imagination. These pieces can range in size from a fraction of a page to the height and girth of a fully-grown person.
Both Caulfield and Taniguchi use their work, in part, to try to understand humanity through its connections with nature. Taniguchi is also interested in environmental issues, believing that “we are so close to nature we can’t ignore it.” She focuses on natural repetition and “broad” cycles of life and death, sometimes using mundane, everyday subjects to illustrate human suffering, darkness, and “captivity in life.”
Caulfield, too, is fascinated by the introspective view of our existence. Recently, he worked in collaboration with Jonathan Hart, Director of Comparative Literature and Professor of English, University of Alberta and Associate Professor Susan Colberg, Design, University of Alberta, to create Darkfire, an artist-book composed of ten prints with accompanying poems. Darkfire was a five-year project that Caulfield said was inspired by William Blake’s Divine Comedy with poetic images taken from Dante’s Inferno.
The artist is currently working with Hart on a second volume while simultaneously pursuing another of his interests-- creating art inspired by historical scientific illustrations. Considering that his brother is actively involved in the field of bioethics, it seems natural that Caulfield would attempt to form a bridge connecting art and science.
Caulfield has since spearheaded a conference that brought together members of the scientific and artistic communities to discus, as he put it, “the parallels between scientific practices and artistic practices.” The success of the conference and the open dialogue between members of the two seemingly very different fields has given Caulfield hope for future conferences.
A few weeks after Caulfield’s visit, another world-famous artist, Charles Cohan, gave a lecture touching on a number of artistic styles from countries around the Pacific Rim. Professor of Art at University of Hawaii at Manoa, Cohan has instructed passionate students in New Zealand, Italy, and South Africa, as well as leading a printmaking program in Hawaii.
The decorated artist is always excited to create with students and colleagues from a wide range of nationalities and artistic backgrounds. With work from New Zealand to Japan to North America, Cohan’s base of operations in Hawaii gives him a prime geographic vantage point for observing art in the “Prints Around the Pacific Rim” collection.
In his lecture on October 13th, Cohan stated, “it’s an incredible enterprise to try to come to terms with what the Pacific Rim is.” The area is composed of 43 countries and, according to Cohan, Hawaii is like an intersection “where the Pacific Rim crosses over.” Each of these countries has its own unique style, like South Korea’s “clinically cool” minimalism, or Australia’s more recent focus on the “bleaching and killing of the coral reefs.”
No matter how small or remote the location, artists in the Pacific Rim have found beauty in their surroundings and societies. As Cohan put it, the diversity and beauty of their work is simply “very inspiring.”
More images from the show are available at https://apps.carleton.edu/campus/gallery/pacific/.