into Ohio’s premier print cooperative, where they encounter an alternative visual dimension of presses, inks, and
fine papers. During the spring and summer months things gradually warm up both outside and procedurally as the
chosen painter of the year begins to re-focus techniques and themes in terms of the often more restrained
activities of print making. So far the concept has worked out fine; the painters selected make the switch and
unleash new energies. Sometimes they learn to forego the immediacy of paint for the more oblique processes of
etching or paper lithography, among other techniques on Zygote’s considerable menu of options. Or they’re led to
painterly methods that can work in a printmaking context. Either way, unobtrusive guidance by Zygote founder
and Director Liz Maugans, Associate Director Jen Craun or other Zygote staffers is no doubt a large part of the
success of these projects. It doesn’t hurt that Zygote picks out artists whose work translates well into the new
media. Painters featured in recent years include Cleveland-based legends like the late Reverend Albert Wagner,
Michelangelo Lovelace, and Amy Casey.
Zygote’s 2007 candidate is Oberlin artist and educator Jean Kondo Weigl. This painter’s quasi-narrative,idiosyncratic,
nervously delineated cast of characters tremble in their tropes somewhere on the outskirts of 19th century Ukiyo-e
printmaking, bounded by late nineteenth century northern European imagery (from the stark horror of the Norwegian
Edvard Munch to the more nuanced mock levity of Belgian painter James Ensor). Further shadowed by the lineage of
expressionist and neo-expressionist artists who have been heir to similar visual passions over the past century, they
carry an emotional weight of old wars and un postmodern historical inflection.
The sixty-three prints, plus a series of pastel drawings and three biggish acrylic paintings, are hard to pin down
associatively. All the connections and influences listed above are part of the mix, but they don’t explain the emotional
success of these pieces, the dream-like intensity of Weigl’s little stories – which certainly are not really stories, but are
more like questions, such as: Why is this bear in a boat? And even more importantly, what is it doing with that rather
These characters are found in a group of small etchings, produced in various permutations of tint and quality, that
depict a bear-like being – or maybe he is more a spirit, a shaman possessed by a bear -- balanced precariously in a
small row boat or skiff. He is either grabbing the short-haired woman at the other end of the boat with intent to maul, or
dancing with her as he wraps his paws around her waist and bends her torso backward. The woman looks
understandably upset, while the bear is very sure of himself. The mysterious pair floats in a river bounded on the far
bank by huts and walls that could only be in Japan.
A narrative of transformation runs through Weigl’s imagery at Zygote, of which the bear in the boat is perhaps the last
phase. Farther to the left the artist has hung a number of prints also featuring a bear, but under quite different
circumstances. Here he is a sort of dancing circus bear, holding a fan behind him as he perches on a small platform.
Curtains frame the tableau, identifying it as a theatrical performance, and a man’s head peers in from the left, ogling or
conversing with a woman who is also on stage, dressed in vaguely middle-eastern garb, like an assistant in a magic act.
There’s also a series showing the same female figure with the close-cropped haircut, alone in the boat, naked, but
nonetheless, androgynous. Then there are several etchings showing a couple in an embrace. This suite is titled, Shall
We Dance. The focus here is tighter and more dynamic than in the boat scene, and the movement of the composition is
determined by the diagonal of the couple’s bodies as the man impels the woman backwards. Her expression changes
from print to print; in some she seems content, in others fearful. At one extreme the’re like rape scenes, with the man
grinning demonically and the woman struggling as she tries to repel his assault. At the other end of this emotional range
an awkward romance seems to blossom in the wobbling vibrato of Weigl’s sensitive lines. This over-all ambiguity and
sexual tension, the alternation of attraction and repulsion, remembers intimacy as in a dream where desire and terror,
intense comfort and profound unease are deduced from the fundamental ambivalence of an embrace. Bodies and
identities come together and nothing is the same. Love and violence, isolation, and the precarious nature of the self all
are themes in these small works.
Elsewhere in the gallery Weigl shows three mid-size canvases, a group of paintings on paper, and ten pastel drawings
based on classic prints by 19th century master print maker Hiroshige. The paintings on canvas are the point of origin for
many of the prints, though not always in a literal sense. One shows a figure in what might be a waiter’s costume, or the
waistcoat and formal trousers of a magician, floating on his back in the currents of a tide of yellow acrylic paint. After
seeing Weigl’s prints, this personage reads as both the woman and the boat, and the serenity of the image speaks of a
spiritual achievement, a peace. This is in stark contrast to the painting next to it, where the embracing couple motif is writ
large. Here there is no doubt: the woman doesn’t want to be there, and the man is intent on rape. The dominant colors
are yellow and magenta, screaming together like a screech of tires.
Weigl’s dramas and resolutions push and pull around the gallery walls, using passion to search for innocence. Near the
yellow floating magician painting is a particularly informal and mysterious sketch executed in paint on a piece of paper.
It shows a large round head equipped with little flipper-like arms or feet, like shoulder pads. It’s very similar to a child’s
drawing, a head-footer in the parlance of outsider art. But suspended within the circle of this big happy face is a smaller
circle containing just the head, the upward-turned face of the magician, as if to say the thought of such serenity is a
return to childhood, to a dream of emotional purity.
[Free Times 9/19/07]
|Jean Kondo Weigle @ Zygote Press