As we all finalize our preparation for Summer Tour this week, printmaker and fan, AJ Masthay, is hard at work putting the finishing touches on his Summer 2013 run. Last week I caught up with AJ to discuss his this summer’s prints and some new twists and turns at Masthay Studios. Below each of his Summer 2013 images is the paragraph from his website describing each work and a few questions and answers about each. Head over to AJ’s website to pick up any of the prints you see below!
“Rise of the Cephalopods” – Bangor
Cephalopods are widely regarded as the most intelligent of all the invertebrates. Naturally they will rise up and take their revenge on the human race, it’s only a matter of time. I imagine they will start their land domination in Maine since so many of their brethren have been harvested out of the waters there. Donning their “above water” rocket propelled mechanical exoskeletons, they first entrance – then ensnare. Watch yourselves and stay safe!
MM: Pretty far-out sci-fi concept here! Did you study biology in school or simply know this about cephalopods and Maine.
AJM: Yeah, it’s out there, but I absolutely love this image. No biology classes, just a passion for animal documentaries and a warped mind.
MM: This print has a distinctly, retro vibe—almost Scooby Doo esque with the mariner—mashed up w/ a futuristic concept. Was this intentional? How did you go about designing this one?
AJM: You’re not the first to liken it to Scooby Doo, and god knows I spent hours of my childhood staring at the Mystery Machine and Scooby snacks. It honestly wasn’t something I was consciously shooting for, but I wouldn’t argue about that one bubbling up from the subconscious. I knew I wanted a spaced out fisherman, your classic “Gorton Fisherman” kind of thing, and it just spiraled from there.
“Duke of Lizards” – SPAC
This summers triptych is a scene straight out of the heyday of Saratoga Springs when men wore top hats and monkey bellhops took your bags to your room. This piece celebrates the Victorian opulence of the town along with the idea of “curiosities” that evolved from that era, I mean what’s more curious than literal lounge lizards getting down?
MM: This one takes on an obviously Phishy feeling with the Lizards jamming. Have you used Lizards on Phish work before?
AJM: I did a series of chameleon prints years ago, one of them for the hiatus, but I’m not sure if those count.
MM: This triptych feels like in takes place inside that Gideon-Putnam hotel right next to SPAC. Any accuracy to that interpretation?
AJM: I’ve never hidden the fact that I love SPAC and Saratoga in general. I’m lucky to have family there and spend quite a bit of time in town. I knew I wanted to avoid horses, nothing against the track, but I did the whole hippo on the track thing last year so time for something new, hence the Victorian theme. It wasn’t the Gideon I was thinking of, rather The Adelphi Hotel which is down on Broadway, but same deal—old Victorian opulence and curiosities.
“Finally Free” – Jones Beach
Do you feel bad for him? Really? Don’t forget what he did to get himself in this situation. I mean a sliced nipple, while painful, is no problem—but all it takes is one drop of blood to draw in our jagged toothed friends. RIP brother, can’t blame a monkey for chasing the girl.
MM: This scene also takes on a clearly Phishy feel with an illustration of the song “Fee.” What inspired you to get so Phishy this run?
AJM: What I love the most about doing these summer prints is that I can do them for myself, no submission process, no feedback, no revisions, just what I want to do. It’s incredibly liberating to have that kind of freedom on piece. I’ve had this image in my head for a long long time, last year’s Jones Beach print was all about beauty with the mermaid, this year’s is certainly about something else. (laughing)
MM: This image really pulls you in with reference points from Floyd’s hand al the way back to the ship. I’ve always noticed that your pieces deal a lot with depth and perspective. Can you talk a bit more how you use techniques to achieve this effect?
AJM: I love creating a huge space out of what is essentially a 12″x20″ rectangle. An artist has some basic tools at their disposable to carve out that space, perspective being particularly effective. Overlapping borders is also a great way to bring the space towards you versus back. You’ll have a hard time finding a piece of mine that has straight lines around the perimeter. What I think is more important is allowing the viewer to enter that space and interact with the image, thats where the real magic happens.
“Barn Burner” – Merriweather Post
The time has come to release the blue crabs from their barn door prison and fire up the cocktails! Nothing like a little propaganda piece to get the crowd worked up into a rabid frenzy—either that or a sick “Walfredo” opener.
MM: This print immediately struck me as my favorite of this run. The colors combined with the detail is just over the top. With this one as an example, did you focus a bit more on creating borders for your images this time around?
AJM: Thanks man, I loved this concept from the get go. This is actually going to be my first year going down to Merriweather, but I’ve been told that its a bit of a police state in the lot there. Thats what initially got me going on the whole “revolution propaganda” theme with the molotov cocktail. The fish in the bottle is just another in a long line of fish I’ve put on the chopping block, whether it be a guillotine, firecrackers or a molotov.
I’ve been playing around with borders and frames a lot this year, not just on the summer prints, but on many of my official pieces also. There’s something about a border that brings resolution to the image, it makes it “feel right” if you know what I mean. I’ve also made some advances in the registration of my prints which enables me to get the fine fines required in many borders. I’m looking forward to where this will lead in the future, it could get interesting.
MM: This is one of your prints offered in variants. This is something new for you within the past year or so. Can you talk a little about the motivation behind offering variants and how you feel they effect your imagery?
AJM: I view each and every variant as an experiment, some work out with spectacular results—others, not so much. As much as I like to push myself as an artist or illustrator, I also like to push myself as a printmaker and the variants are a great way to do so. I’m quite lucky to have a great local art store that stocks hundreds of different decorative papers from around the world, everything from Egyptian papyrus to Japanese rice papers. When I am preparing to bring a print to press I’ll usually go in there to pick out 10-15 sheets of whatever I think they will look good on. Now whether the paper agrees with the press & inks is a different story. Many of the papers were never really meant to be run through a press with thousands of pounds of pressure. So Im slowly working my way through, testing different sheets, keeping notes, etc. It’s actually a really fun and interesting process, I never really know what the results will be until that last color is pulled.
“Skyballz aka The Overflow Tank” – Chicago
So a good buddy of mine stopped by the studio the other day. Upon seeing this print he says, “AJ, you’ve reached the 4th dimension!”
Welcome to the 4th dimension folks. Watch your head, there’s low flying Skyballz…
MM: Really intriguing image here; very different. Did you start out to depict “sky balls” or did you think of the connection later?
AJM: This whole scene was inspired by the Adler Planetarium which is at the tip of Northerly Island, although whats actually depicted is an orrery. Again, I wanted to create some serious depth and a sense of space in this one, with the planets pushing and pulling into the picture plane. The skyballs certainly came after, but was too suiting for the piece not to use it.
MM: Did you intentionally use a similar color palette to the UIC ’11 triptych? Coincidence?
AJM: The color palette certainly does make it a nice companion piece for the UIC triptych doesn’t it? Theres something about that mix of mauve, yellow, burnt and raw sienna that I just love.
“The Gorge” – George, Washington
Peaceful and tranquil, antelope frolic and graze in the scenic beauty of an epic venue. Look closer and realize that something is amiss in this otherwise Garden of Eden, we are not the only ones watching this scene unfold.
MM: An idyllic scene turned dark. Was the periscope a last minute addition or planned all along?
The periscope was planned from the beginning, in fact it was the catalyst for the entire piece. Anyone familiar with my work knows I lean towards the dark side, what I love about this one is the dark side is completely implied, the dark side only exists in the viewers mind. The periscope, itself, is fairly bright and unassuming, but whats is the periscope attached to? What’s lurking under that water? It’s my job to set the scene and the cast of characters, but its the viewers job to create the plot.
AJM: Ok, so it was part of the plan. How often do your prints change mid-process, let’s say, as you get a new idea? Or do you always go with the originally finalized image?
Determining the theme/image is honestly what I consider the most difficult part of the entire process. I’ll typically go through five to ten different concepts, sometimes all over the board, before something sticks for good. I have more half finished sketches than I care to admit, but that’s part of what the sketch process is for, working out the “kinks” before the carving tools ever touch the linoleum. If you look at my original sketches you can see the evidence of this creative process, linework that’s been reworked over and over until perfect, guidelines laid out only to be erased and moved a fraction of an inch. It’s not uncommon to have an entire image worked out in pencil one day and the next morning it just doesn’t feel right so Ill erase the whole thing. By the time the image actually makes it onto the plate and carving commences, it’s been put through the ringer and is fairly settled. I’ll occasionally make very minor changes to the plate mid-printing, but overall nothing that would probably be noticed by the casual viewer.
Untitled/Unfinished – PNC
MM: Wow, this one blends Indian culture with Northern Jersey! How’d you come up with this relationship / imagery?
AJM: I wasn’t thinking so much about the blending of Indian culture but rather the state of mind I find myself falling into during a particularly good jam at a show, you know that almost trance-like state where all that matters is the music. Hence the snake charmer image with PNC’s shed as the basket holding all the goodies!
MM: That’s cool. I certainly know that state. How often do you actually try to evoke the feeling of Phish through your art? Or is that a silly question? All the time?
AJM: Not a silly question at all. I dont know that I’m necessarily trying to evoke a feeling of the band, rather I think the emotions and experiences I take away from seeing the band are acting as inspiration for images. Does that even make any sense? I’ve been huffing ink fumes all day so I dont even know what I’m saying anymore!
MM: Most definitely! Thanks so much for your time AJ! Safe travels and I’ll see you next week.
Jam of the Day:
“Undermind” 8.31.12 I, Commerce City, CO
Who could forget this?