Sunday, July 17, 2011

Interview with Larry Vienneau of Raven Stamps


I received my BFA in painting from Southeastern Massachusetts University (now UMASS Dartmouth) in 1977. I took a year off after undergraduate before heading to Southern Illinois University where I earned a MFA in Painting /Printmaking in 1981. After finishing school I actually made a living as an artist on Nantucket Island! I opened a shop, sold in local galleries, taught printmaking and painting at the Nantucket Artist Association.  I met my future wife on Nantucket and followed her to Hong Kong where we married and lived for the next year. We returned to Massachusetts where I taught Printmaking and Drawing at Bridgewater State College. In 1989 I was hired at University of Alaska Fairbanks. I loved Alaska and  created large scale landscape paintings. I also met an Alaskan Native Writer and formed a lasting friendship. I illustrated several of his books on Alaskan Native Culture. That is where my fascination for Raven began. My first child was born in 1997, an Alaskan baby.  In 2001 my wife (a documentary film maker) was offered a position at a large market PBS station in Minnesota. So kicking and screaming I left Alaska. My second child was born, a Minnesota baby.  In 2006 I was offered a teaching position in Florida. So we packed up the family and moved to the land of sun and palm trees.  We live in Lake Mary Florida and I teach at Seminole State College of Florida in Sanford Florida.

Why do you like to print?

As soon as I pulled my first print, I feel in love with printmaking! It felt like I was opening a present and I still get excited when I pull a print. It is one of the things that keep me addicted to it. I enjoy painting and drawing but the process of printmaking intrigues me. It is indirect. It is both craft and art. The unexpected and the accidents of printmaking are the things I look forward to the most.  I am a teacher and I think my favorite experience is watching a student pull their first print. I know I have passed on my addiction to a new generation!

What is your favorite print medium and why? 

I am most attracted to all intaglio process although I love relief printing. I enjoy getting my hands dirty; printing an etching plate is good and messy. I have done many color intaglio prints but I LOVE black and white. Like old black and white movies, my prints allow the viewer to use their imagination.   Rich bold values can be very powerful and beautiful. Black and white allows the viewer to be more interpretative.

How long have you been printing and how has your work evolved?

I first printed in graduate school in 1979. Then I was using traditional techniques of zinc or copper, acids, grounds and solvents. I knew these were not healthy so I did not dive full bore into printmaking but worked as a painter and did teach printmaking courses. In the early 1990’s I became aware of new technology of light sensitive polymer plates. Though I wanted to experiment with them the cost was very high and I was in Alaska so the cost was doubled in shipping. In Florida I finally began to experiment with these new plates and was soon hooked. Though I still love to work on traditional techniques I am now nearly 100% polymer.  I always spend at least 20-40 hours to create the perfect intaglio plate. Now I invest that same amount of time into doing my drawing on paper in preparation for the polymer plate. I find inspiration from a traditional or historic account of the raven, next I decide on my title. I spend hours drawing with traditional gouache, ink and charcoal, and then I scan the drawing and rework it with Photoshop. I repeat this process several times so the traditional and new technologies merge seamlessly.  I use a photopolymer process to transfer the original drawing to a printing plate from which I can hand print an edition.  The new technology has allowed my work to evolve in new and exciting ways. 

What inspires you?

As my son will attest, I am a history nerd. I love the stories and belief systems of our ancestors. Raven has played a pivotal role in most ancient creation stories.  Raven is a "trickster" in Native American stories and myths. He's sometimes a hero, a troublemaker, a glutton, a buffoon, a destroyer or a creator. The Trickster alternately scandalizes, disgusts, amuses, disrupts, chastises, and humiliates (or is humiliated by) humans. He also is creative force, transforming the world, sometimes in bizarre and outrageous ways. In some narratives, he is the evil antagonist, the “Devil”; he is also “Creator”, the father of mankind, and a potent conductor of spiritual forces in the form of sacred dreams. 

Black Birds in Greek mythology sometimes have the ability to speak. These talking birds, often sources of wisdom, may be deities in bird form or simply messengers of the deities. Their advice is generally reliable, and humans ignore it at their risk. Birds warn of dangers ahead, reveal secrets, and guide heroes and travelers on their way.  In Nordic legends Raven appears as the first God of premonitions.

The blackness of a raven is interpreted as the symbol of death and an omen of evil. However, ravens are the most intelligent bird on the planet, the most playful of bird species.  They slide down snow banks, apparently for the fun of it. They chase the cars of anyone who struck a member of their flock. They even engage in games with other species, such as playing with wolves and dogs. Ravens are known for stunning acrobatic displays such as flying in loops or interlocking talons with each other in flight. They have intricate vocalizations that borders on language. They also use tools and will even joust with each other with sticks or leaves.  I lived in Alaska for a dozen years and my most lasting and powerful memories are of these majestic birds. By creating these images I feel, somehow, connected to “The Great Land”

How do your promote your work?

Unfortunately I have very little time for self promotion. Teaching and family keep me pretty busy. I use any available time for the creative process. Discovering Etsy has been exciting. I have been able to reach a wide audience and have seen my raven prints fly all over the globe.

Are you working on any particular projects now?  

I continue to develop my raven series, there are still images left to create. I also continue to illustrate stories and books for my Alaskan Native writer friend.  I recently finish preliminary versions for a book cover. We are also going to collaborate on a children’s book.  (Also two of Larry's prints have been selected as a finalist in the Animal/Wildlife category of The Artist's Magazine 28th Annual Art Competition appearing in the December Issue.)

Tell us one random fact about yourself 

I am the oldest of seven children. At sixteen I broke my neck in a diving accident. I did fully recover but that event changed my life. Drawing helped during recuperation and I soon realized I wanted to be an artist. 

I love to make my own artist tools. I make my own oil, water color, and acrylic paints, charcoal, and pens. I make drawing ink from chicken bones and from acorns. I have made several relief presses and have restored etching presses.

I love fly fishing and have built a few fly rods. I enjoy tying my own flies. We camp as much as possible.

Check out Larry's Etsy Shop and Facebook Page


émilion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
émilion said...

Really interesting.