C A N NONB A L L P RE S S
C U R AT ED BY A NCH O R GRA PHIC S
JA NUA RY 5窶認EB RUA RY 1 1, 2012
West of the White City by James Iannaccone
OPPOSITE PANEL 1. MARTIN MAZORRA FOR REAL? WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES 2. MIKE HOUSTON PROFESSOR STOOMVAGEN WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES 3. MIKE HOUSTON FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES 4. MARTIN MAZORRA HORRIBLE BUT TRUE WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES 5. MARTIN MAZORRA MINISCULE MARVELS FLEA CIRCUS WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES 6. MIKE HOUSTON KEKAYAAN WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 52 X 55 INCHES
FRONT COVER MIKE HOUSTON BEARDED LADY WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES MARTIN MAZORRA MONKEY OR MAN? WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES
ention of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 instantly conjures up visions of the White City. Its great buildings pristinely coated in brilliant paint. Its architecture a logical construction of neoclassical Beaux Arts principles based on balance and symmetry. At night it was illuminated by hundreds of thousands of incandescent bulbs. During the day it was presided over by a golden Statue of the Republic while one of the largest lakes on earth shimmered to the east. In the 1890s the country was undergoing a traumatic rebirth as an industrial society causing a sense of instability and uncertainty among the populous. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus, the White City presented America as a stable and timeless rival to Europe. Its magnificence showed that the transition from agriculture to technology was an indicator of progress and not something to be feared. With clean streets and modern sanitation, the White City was a prototype for an America of the future. In comparison to the slums of Chicago, filled with urban blight and economic depression, it was a beautiful and comforting sight. But on the western edge of the Exposition was a fair of a different sort. Away from the refined classical splendor, amongst hoots and hollers, the Midway Plaisance offered less dignified forms of entertainment. The Midway Plaisance had started off innocent enough in the 1850s as part of a grand proposal to turn marshland on Chicago’s south side into a place of relaxation for middle and upper class city dwellers. The South Park Commission was given the go-ahead and Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm, which by this time had already created New York’s famous Central Park, was hired to do the design. The pastoral network would include Washington Park to the west, Jackson Park to the east, and the Midway Plaisance as a mile-long system of paths and canals connecting the two. The Midway would allow boaters to
go from ponds in Washington Park to lagoons in Jackson Park and all the way out onto the waters of Lake Michigan. At least that was the plan until the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, after which the rebuilding of the city took priority and necessitated the funds designated for the South Park. The area remained in a swampy state until preparations for the Exposition began. The fair’s management had conceived of the Midway as a kind of department of anthropology under the stewardship of Harvard professor F.W. Putnam. However, because of political cronyism and pressure from financial investors, it was soon surrendered to the theatrical promoter Sol Bloom, a protégé of P.T. Barnum. With Bloom, the dignified and educational ethnographic exhibits were thrown under the bus of moneymaking opportunism. The Midway became a thoroughfare of hokum and fakes, and a hugely successful crowd-pleaser. “Street in Cairo” was its most popular attraction, featuring a belly dancer named Little Egypt doing a hootchy-kootchy routine performed to a tune now commonly associated with cartoon snake charmers and the lyrics, “They don’t wear pants on the sunny side of France.” The Midway was filled with every kind of amusement imaginable, from the first Ferris Wheel to a Moorish Palace furnished with funhouse mirrors. Its concessions brought in over $4 million dollars and rivaled the White City for visitors’ attentions. The entrepreneurs of the Midway were creating a whole new branch of the entertainment industry. Gathering sideshows, rides, theatrical attractions, games and other amusements in one location, it was the beginning of the carnival as we know it. Subsequently, every county fair would have a Midway, and by the turn of the century a permanent version had opened at Coney Island. The success of the Midway signaled a rising tension between popular and high culture in America. Many people believed that greatness would not come through imitating Europe, but from celebrating our own uniquely vernacular way of life.
MARTIN MAZORRA SWORD SWALLOWER WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES
Before the gates to the White City or the Midway started admitting visitors, the Exposition was already changing the future of American politics. Its planning committees were made up of both state officials and corporate leaders who wove their own agendas into the fabric of the fair, intent on influencing the nearly one quarter of the country’s population who would attend. The public sector and private enterprise had merged as midwives for a new nation that sought to be a global leader in technology, industry, and consumerism. The birth didn’t go so smoothly, and in the years since the Exposition the performers, barkers, and charlatans of the Midway have become icons of exploitation, profiteering, political showmanship, corruption, and all manner of social ills. In short, their images represent the exaggerated farcical
MIKE HOUSTON VLAD THE FLINGER WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES
theatre of contemporary American life. Cannonball Press has adopted these miscreants, making art with a spirit and attitude similar to Bloom’s. An art that is at times garish and grotesque, yet always populist and unequivocally American. Cannonball Press has created a Midway for the White City of fine art, offering not the idyllic but the offkilter, reveling in its own bizarre juices. Based in Brooklyn, Cannonball Press is Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra. They have embarked on a mission to redefine printmaking through their own brand of collaboration, stretching the notion of what a monochromatic woodcut can be, as well as what the traditional publishing venture entails. They set out to make affordable black and white prints that will reach the masses. Houston and Mazorra are long-time advocates of
MARTIN MAZORRA DEMON WRESTLING WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES
the affordable art cause, selling both their own images and those of other artists they have editioned for only $20. Here they differ from Bloom’s money grubbing capitalist ways but not from his desire to present a more democratic alternative to the high falootin’. Cannonball soon became known for making ever-larger woodcuts, combining them into quilted “Frankenbanners.” In the neighborhood of 200 square feet, some were free hanging while others were permanent wall installations. In the past few years these collages have turned sculptural. Three-dimensional pieces with a wooden structure, completely pasted over with prints to form giant masks, a huge megaphone, a bunker with escape hatches, a tent city, a 5-foot tall working cash register, a 13-foot basketball playing don-
key, a 14-foot yeti, or a 60-foot parade snake comprised of over 1000 woodcut scales. Cannonball’s sense of humor and irreverence are clearly visible, but the whimsy of their style belies the poignancy of their message. Houston, a native North Carolinian, and Mazorra, originally from West Virginia, first met at the Chautauqua School of Art, then reconnected six years later discovering they had a similar creative trajectory. They both wished to pursue earnest and satirical pictures about broad social themes including global economics, the divisions of wealth and labor, wanton waste, and the gluttony of capitalism. Houston and Mazorra often champion the marginalized, suffering under tragic circumstances either instigated through their own follies or by those with greater power and wealth. They create depictions of ordinary individuals exhibiting a heroic perseverance of self-preservation. The prints’ black and white format parallel the starkness of the situations, the boldness of the characters, and the brashness of their behavior. With simultaneous love for and disgust with our country, Cannonball embraces contradiction while recognizing its own place in the rich continuum of printmaking history. There has been a long lineage of printers disseminating graphic work with a political bent. For centuries the woodcut has been a direct line of communication to the plebeian herd. Durer, Posada, and Rembrandt have all used it as an allegorical tool to bring important issues to the forefront of communal consciousness. Cannonball has continued this tradition in the present. Today, the Midway Plaisance has achieved its initial purpose as parkland and even the intended educational function of the Exposition’s organizers. In a true return to refinement, it was again placed before Frederick Law Olmsted once the fair had finished, and over the ensuing decades became part of the University of Chicago as the school gradually grew to surround it. Similarly, the images of Cannonball Press come full circle. They act as signposts pointing back to the White City but also encouraging us to celebrate the crazy as we get there. They are mirrors reinforcing our self-image, while gently nudging us back from the precipice of complete selfabsorption. They remind us that a cannonball is not just a solid metal missile but also a favored diving maneuver at pool parties, and that the World’s Columbian Exposition not only gave us the City Beautiful movement but Pabst Blue Ribbon beer. James Iannaccone graduated from Northwestern University with a BA in Art History in 1999 followed by an internship with the Terra Museum of American Art and a position as a gallery assistant at the Judy A Saslow Gallery. He served as Assistant to the Director of Anchor Graphics at Columbia College Chicago from 2002–2011.
MIKE HOUSTON WIN GIANT CRAP WOODCUT ON HEAVYWEIGHT CANVAS BANNER 34 X 87 INCHES
A+D AVERILL AND BERNARD LEVITON A+D GALLERY 619 SOUTH WABASH AVENUE CHICAGO, ILLINOIS 60605 312 369 8687 GALLERY HOURS TUESDAY – SATURDAY 11AM – 5PM THURSDAY 11AM – 8PM
MIKE HOUSTON AND MARTIN MAZORRA, SIDESHOW (DETAIL), 2001, WOODCUT ON CANVAS, APPROX. 10 X 20 FEET
about cannonball press Since 1999, under the name Cannonball Press, Mike Houston and Martin Mazorra have been publishing high-quality limited-edition twenty-dollar black and white relief cuts. They have published work by over fifty artists from across the U.S. Long-time champions of the affordable art cause, they showcase the work at cannonballpress.com, as well as at numerous university, gallery, and museum shows nationally and internationally every year. In addition to publishing the work of other artists, Mike and Martin work independently on their own imagery, which generally takes the form of letterpress prints on paper or 4x8 foot woodcut prints on canvas. Also, together they have embarked on a mission to redefine printmaking for themselves, through their own brand of collaborative “woodcutology.”
Their work has taken them to Estonia, Japan, South Africa, Maui, Denmark and Germany, as well as numerous shows across the continental United States. In 2009, they were named United States Artists Ford Fellows. Cannonball also conceived of, funds, and runs the hugely popular affordable art fair called Prints Gone Wild in New York every year, which brings together over a dozen of the top affordable printmakers in the U.S. for a weekend during New York Fine Art Print Week. cannonballpress.com
This exhibition is sponsored by the Art + Design Department at Columbia College Chicago and is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency.