Marc Wilson, former director and CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, called Russell Ferguson “one of the great draftsmen of his generation.” The longtime Kansas City artist is also a profound thinker, whose artworks embed a lifetime of travel and quest.
For the past two years, Ferguson has worked with master printer Mike Sims at Lawrence Lithography workshop on “Data Riven,” a series of prints that reflect, in his words, “a pilgrimage.” Tim Brown, owner of the Telephonebooth Gallery, is the publisher.
The sources of these complex compositions are wide-ranging, including Ferguson’s visits to national parks, childhood memories of a trip to Japan with his father, and the tradition of Islamic Haj paintings memorializing the trip to Mecca.
Running through all of Ferguson’s prints are a sense of spiritual search and an openness to the wisdom of far-ranging cultures and unconventional creators. They include the French postman, Ferdinand Cheval, who built a visionary structure from stones called Le Palais Ideal in Hauterives, France, a frequent touchstone of Ferguson’s work.
Ferguson plans to present the print series in two books with 12 images in each, which will also be available as individual prints. The following pages feature the three prints he has completed and two of the numerous drawings that he will eventually translate into additional prints.
“Three Giants” portrays bell casting by figures balancing on cow horn stilts and wearing what Ferguson describes as “woolly undercuts of Iceland shag.” It’s a surreal vision, based on his personal experiences and interests, but inviting our associations and imaginative interactions. In his statement about the series, Ferguson enumerates his motifs and inspirations and his determination to avoid “generic land stereotype and boilerplate.”
A key image of the second print, “Two Swans,” is a grouping of Japanese “Daruma dolls,” inspired, Ferguson said, by the story of a Zen monk who meditated so long he lost his arms and legs. For New Year’s, he related, people buy dolls with one eye and paint in the other eye for good luck. The spherical dolls cascading through the center of the compositions can be seen on the steps of shrines all over the Japanese city of Kurashiki, the setting of “Two Swans.”
All three prints employ a process known as over tinting, which allows for untouched areas of bright white paper to add visual animation. Formal experiments abound in these prints. In “One Dog in the Manger,” Ferguson utilizes “the necker cube illusion,” a famous 2-D representation of a 3-D cube using isometric perspective. He also indulges his love of patterning — “a lattice is a plaid is a checkered mountain at Zion Park,” he writes. Dominating the composition is a man wearing a kilt in a checkered pattern echoed in the lattice structures below him and the landscape behind him. At right is a waterfall, based on the artist’s memories of Havasu Canyon in Arizona and the stalactite formations of Le Palais Ideal.
Such visual interweavings and overlaps speak to the deeper connections linking cultures and their stories, structures and natural settings, which Ferguson intuits and seeks to share.
In January, the Telephonebooth Gallery in collaboration with Lawrence Lithography Workshop introduced a limited edition of the three prints. Sales will help finance the completion of the book. For more information, contact Tim Brown at the Telephonebooth Gallery, 3319 Troost, 816.582.9812; telephoneboothgallery.com or Lawrence Lithography Workshop, 2011 Tracy Ave., 816.471.4848; www.lawrencelitho.com
All images courtesy of the Telephonebooth Gallery