Dirk Hagner earned an MFA in Germany and worked there for a few years, but has lived in California since the 1980s as a freelance illustrator and publication designer. In 1999 he began doing fine art, and since 2007 he has taught printmaking and drawing at a community college. “I always believed that printmaking and graphics inform each other since it all began 500 years ago,” he told me. Indeed, in Germany printmaking is called “Grafik,” while its commercial variant is called “Gebrauchsgrafik,” which literally translates as “Use-Graphics.” In 2010 he began a series of prints adding words that form Haiku. He’s published them in a book, which I asked Hagner about below.
When did you start this work, and what was the inspiration for Haiku?
I started this project in 2010. Words, and by extension poetry, are frequently part of my art. Often I use them not only for their meaning but because of the mark letters and writing make. I am Influenced by my German education, particular with its printmakers, but of course, living in the States for most of my life now added in a big way to my work. At the same time I always found myself much attracted to the Eastern sensibility of space and simplicity, like in Zen brush painting, for example. Haikus just fell in naturally.
The contemporary abbreviations and creative spelling make these Haiku into games for eye and mind. Where did this derive?
Using texting words was like jpeg-ing a picture: they used less space, larger type could fit in the lines. In America, bigger is better. The result was a loss compression, introducing some interesting artifacts. However, just like in a jpeg, the words resurrected to their full meaning when read. I think that helped me to finally work through the whole concept: I wanted to bridge Western and Eastern cultural traditions, like using a traditional broadsheet paper size, letterpress printing, European “bite of the print” visual commentary, American typographic traditions, with the contemplative nature of Japanese measured verse of haiku. My students helped me with the texting.
Are you printing with your own blocks? What is your process?
Most of the visual elements are woodcuts I made, and most of the large type is wood type. I am using a full-size Showcard Signmaster press, dating probably from the 1960s, and I have lots of type in drawers. In the background of the haiku pieces is typically a plate impression in various colors made from the marks that large printing rollers make when cleaning the printing ink off and onto paper. On top are overprinted layers of type and images, etc. There are up to 14 different colors involved, although some colors were run multiple times during the layering, so there are more runs done than there are colors. In some pieces I also used stencils and spray paint. But I want to keep the process completely within printing. Everything was inked with a brayer and hand-printed. The edition size is 25.
There were one or two of them with the hint of computer manipulation. Am I wrong?
I absolutely use the computer, but not for printing. The pieces are all hand produced. I use the computer sometimes for compositions, for generating film to make special letterpress printing plates (what used to be called “metal cuts”) and sometimes to test color combinations. Occasionally I don’t have enough letters of a font I want to use, or I don’t have a particular size of a font at all, so I make a film to generate a plate and then mount it type-high to use. I also used these plates to add QR codes in each of the broadsides. They give direct access to the untexted haiku text in plain English, and some provide web links to information about the poets themselves, what a haiku is, and what the letterpress printing process is all about.
What is you goal with this work?
The goal is to bring the important confluence of seeing and understanding the goings-on in the world across to the viewer, the mashing of different cultures, old and new processes, hints of history and contemporary issues, calm and unease, the beauty of the printing process and the written word. My hope is that the result is unexpected with a hint of familiarity—then it becomes interesting. I like people to feel something when they look at the work, so they get curious and start thinking about what this might be all about and look closer. Then the next step can happen—to connect. My intent was also to concept the work to be a traveling exhibition, easy to put up, and so far it has been shown in a number of universities across the States, including during Southern Graphics Council’s 2012 conference in New Orleans.
Where can people find it?
They can find the series and more info on it on my website: www.dirkhagnerstudio.com
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