“These 100 variations of the 12×12 inch format of the woodblock print offer startling perceptual shifts of color, text, geometric patterns, and natural forms. While all of the prints play off repeated forms, and abstracted shapes modified as Runge’s process unfolded, some prints feel completely unique, lending insight to the way creativity arises in the dedication to reflecting on the simplest aspects of life.
Throughout 2012 Dieter Runge produced more than 200 of these wood block prints on a small printing press in his studio. To let the creative process unfold, Runge set no restrictions on contents or style, but worked improvisationally and with a fluid method of incorporating repeated motifs of the forms that surround him as he worked. The resulting prints range from monochromatic squares or circles to phrases, to the incorporation of any object in his studio or garden that could be put in between the block and the paper. Often working on several prints and color variations at a time and incorporating ghost prints, Runge’s forms build and respond to each other.
The idea of geometric and natural variation runs throughout the recent history of abstraction in printmaking– from Elsworth Kelly’s non-compositional method to Jennifer Bartlett’s formal minimal systems. Runge’s background as musician, his interest in meditation, as well as his commitment to the history of woodblock prints, lends his series a bold, luscious and fresh attitude, all at the same time. The format of each print is a reference to the 12” vinyl record cover. Their visual impact is based as much on the rock’n roll riff as the zen mantra.” (Jaimey Hamilton-Ferris)
My last full time job in New York was as a bike messenger. For a good year and a half I was out on the mean streets 5 days a week, 7-8 hrs a day, summer, winter, spring and fall. After my first six month my 12- gear bike got stolen and I got a Panasonic track frame from the small anarchist messenger service I worked for and put a fixie together. Nobody called them that back then. It was a track bike, ridden by roughly half of New York’s messengers. Nobody else rode one on the street in those days. That x-mas I moved to Light Speed where a fellow rock’n roller worked. Light Speed was one of the best companies with 3 dispatchers and about 140 riders. If you wanted to make money you rode every day, fast and reliable. The dispatchers liked you and that’s how you got the better jobs, crossing zones, rush deliveries, oversizes and you still worked when it got slow, like during lunch, which I often ate in elevators or even on the bike. I started early and liked to be done around 4:00 PM, before my focus waned and all the workers in the office towers flooded the sidewalks and streets. I got run over twice, deliberately, had a crowbar and a baseball bat swung at me, got yelled at and yelled myself, catapulted over the handlebar, slid out on metal plates, on ice, had my breath in a wool scarf, that was wrapped around my face, frozen solid, stopped by cops numerous times and remember riding down Broadway singing on top of my voice. Bikemessengering attracts independent spirits. While what you are doing is set, the way you are doing it is up to you, you can dress as funky as you want and nobody leans over your shoulder. I made a video on it. It is described in more detail in the post Mystik Mood.
“…bike couriers have an injury rate three times higher than workers in the infamously dangerous occupation of meatpacking.” Jeffrey Kidder, Urban Flow, Bike Messengers and the City, Cornell University Press, 2011.
In 2007 after visiting Germany and staying in NY twice, I decided to put another fixie together. It would be fun to put together, to ride one again and help me manage the parking and commute to and from the UH Manoa campus. It was a project that my friend Stephen and I worked on together. The only fixies I saw on Oahu at the time was in and around the art building.
I welcome that fixies have arrived in the mainstream, because it seems to help bring more people on bikes. I love the aesthetics and there is a lot of room for personal expression. I see more and more kids riding fixies (or single speeds). The more the better.
Eventually it became inevitable to make some bike prints.
Woodcut on fabric, ca 48″ x 84″, Dieter Runge, Mike Nice, 2013
The timing for this large Ganesh was inspired by the beginning of the New Year and the event of ‘Print Bigger’ in Honolulu’s Chinatown on the First Friday in March 2013. As one of my intentions for the New Year I set out to do more collaborations and I invited Mike Nice, who I knew as a fellow printmaker and yoga practitioner. We carved and printed mostly together while occasionally working alone. It probably took about a month to carve the plate. We made three prints together using small rollers and brushes to apply different colored inks to bring out the different details. This process is extremely slow, taking at least four hours to ink up the plate and several hours to rub the sub straight to ensure enough saturation.
Ganesh is widely revered as the Remover of Obstaclesand more generally as Lord of Beginnings and Lord of Obstacles,patron of arts and sciences, and the deva of intellect and wisdom,the god of transitions and the lord of letters and learning. He personifies the primal sound AUM. It is said that Ganesh resides in the first chakra and thereby holds and supports all the other chakras. Devotion to Ganesh extends beyond India and Hinduism to Jains and Buddhists. His origins go back all the way to the pre Hindu Vedas (source Wikipeda).
These large woodblock prints of Ganesh are part of the ancient tradition in art of combining spiritual practice with creating art that presents or is part of this practice. My first extensive exploration of this tradition was my ‘100 Views of Taiji”, 2003, 100 oil paintings of the taiji form inspired by my master’s Grandfather, and continued with the “14 Stations of the Cross” for the Church of the Epiphany in Honolulu. The sun prints also fit into this practice. After several prints and paintings inspired by meditation and yoga, Ganesh is the most recent project in what I like to call, art as spiritual practice or inspirational art. The first describing the process and the latter pointing to the potential viewer.
Rock'n Roll II
60 Woodblock Prints
On RFK Reeves
22” x 30”
Dieter Runge, 2006
In the spring of 2006 I took J. W. Junker’s class “A History of Rock & Roll” (MUS 477) at the University of Hawaii’s music department. It was probably the most fun class I ever took in college, undergrad or grad school. Part of it was the subject of course, but for the most part it was the combination of Jay Junker’s infectious personality and knowledge of the subject. It was in a good-sized auditorium with great acoustics, and a grand piano. Jay showed video clips and played lots of songs as he lectured, often standing next to the piano pounding the top of it with his palm to make a point. Most students were classical or ethnic music majors and when the Jay asked questions I was usually the only one raising my hand. But I still learned a lot, for example that the term rock’n roll was used as far back as the 19th century. Yes, it could be a ship rocking and rolling back and fourth as some dictionaries suggest, and yes a form of popular music developed during the 40’s and 50’s, but making love is probably much closer to the original meaning and that’s really how I see it. I knew for a long time that Bo Diddley took his beat straight from the church, but I learned much more about the influence of gospel on rock’n roll.
My field research project was to write about and document my time in New York City (May 1978-November 1988), my bands, recordings, band posters, record covers, videos, basically all my creative activities. I called it Dieter’s Rock’n Roll Revelation. Artist book publication soon. This looking back inspired me to take some of my band posters and recreate them as woodblock prints in the fall of 2006. I was also working on a print of my taiji master’s grandfather and one of the wooden Guan-yin sculpture at the Honolulu Academy of Arts. I carved eight blocks all together. After pulling some prints of the individual blocks, I printed the taiji master on top of the New York Niggers. It opened up a massive flow of creative energy. I started to print the different blocks on top of each other, often using the ghost print technique, or partially blocking off the plates. I quickly realized that the prints reproduced the singular aesthetic of walls or fences covered with posters, aged by rain and sun, and partially ripped off. I created about 20 prints, each different from the other. When I showed them to my graduate adviser Yida Wang, she suggested I print 40 more. I went to the bookstore and got 40 more sheets of 22×30” BFK and went to work. I worked fast and spontaneous. The printmaking process itself became rock’n roll. The subject of the images became identical to the process. I hung all 60 prints, three on top of each other on a 25’ wall and another 10’ around the corner. Later a few were framed and hung in different shows. Some of the prints now hang in Hamburg, Berlin, New York, San Francisco, Honolulu and Telluride. 27 appeared at a pop-up show in Honolulu’s Kaimuki (2013).
Rock & Roll Pt 2 refers then to the revisit of my life as a rock’n roller in NY through printmaking with a nod to Gary Glitter, not to exonerate him of his personal downfalls, but to point to the essence of rock’n roll. Rock’n roll in its essence is tribal. It is for this tribal element that I always strive for when I play, and aim to combine with intelligence, humor and spiritual uplift.
Sun, Sun, Sun
In the early summer of 2008, I went to China for the third time. My friend Galen and I met up in Tokyo for a raucous night together with my fellow grad student Mitsuhiro, then spend two days exploring the 798 art district in Beijing before joining our taiji group around Master Dong Zeng-chen. One stop was the Wudang Mountains, considered the cradle of Daoism, a Unesco world heritage cultural site. The martial arts movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon is based on the Daoist mythology of the Wudang Mountains. There are 60 temples, some more than a thousand years old. Our hotel was located right between the Purple Cloud Temple the Wudang Wushu Academy, where 12-18 year old Chinese youth live and practice taiji, meditation and gong-fu eight hours per day. They get to visit their parents once a year. An English speaking young woman acted as our liaison and gave us a qigong lesson one early morning. She impressed me with her incredible grace, natural kindness and style, which were partly expressed, through her pasture and the ease with which she carried herself.
My posture had always been terrible, even though it had improved over 30 years of practicing taiji. During my time back in school my daily practice had slipped and two month before my thesis I had been so stressed out that I decided to stop drinking completely until my thesis was done, and to meditate again every morning. Now, with school almost done, I still had to write my thesis paper, I wanted to get my meditation practice to another level and inspired by the Wudang Mountain woman to improve my pasture. I understood that meditation, good posture and the way I feel are all connected. Then, in August I broke my collarbone bodysurfing and in the fall I wrote my paper that included an initial struggle with the first draft. My doctor had said that with surgery or without, the chance of healing my shoulder well was 50/50. The decision was easy, since I don’t have insurance. Every month I would go to the doctor to get x-rays, but a small gap always remained between the bones. Grad school had brought up a lot of anger and writing the paper I was again drinking 2-3 glasses of wine per day and occasionally more. I suppose this didn’t help my shoulder to heal.
By the end of December my taiji friend Geri told me that her yoga teacher Myra Lewin was coming to Oahu from Maui for a one-day meditation workshop. They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. I went to the workshop and consequently signed up for the 7-day silent meditation retreat starting in early January at Olowalu on Maui. We meditated mornings and evenings, learned pranayama, did asanas for a couple of hours and had integrated breathing sessions every afternoon, during which we could touch on issues buried in the unconscious. We ate vegetarian Auyrvedic food, designed to clear your system and palate. Back home I started practicing as much as I could retain.
The December x-ray still hadn’t shown any improvement of my collarbone. I could still see the separation. The week after the yoga retreat I got my next x-ray. My doctor dropped his jaw and pointed out that the bone had healed perfectly. Since January 2009 I practice every day, have participated in seven more silent retreats, did my own yoga teacher training in 2010, cooked for several other yoga teacher trainings and retreats, and now teach Ayurvedic cooking workshops and yoga. I will write more about yoga in upcoming posts.
One part of this meditation is to imagine a big, golden sun over my head at the end of the meditation. Into this sun I can put whatever I like to manifest in my life, kindness, love, creativity, freedom, etc. Then l let this energy pour into every part of my body, every cell even the space between the cells. This practice inspired me to work on a series of woodblock prints, which I call the sun prints.
These prints evolved from 12” to 24” all the way up to a 48” plate and finally a 9” block. I printed them on paper, fabric, in single prints or long scrolls, and on clothes They have appeared in various exhibitions.
Woodcut on Mulberry paper, ca 30′ by 42″, printed from both sides, Dieter Runge, 2005, 2 scrolls.
These 30 feet long scrolls are printed from one single plate ca 500 times from both sides on a semi transparent Japanese mulberry paper of natural colors.
Grandmaster”, woodcut, 12″ x12″, edition of 20, dieter runge, 2018
Celebrating Olena (W). woodcut, 10 1/2″ x 15″ 1/2, edition of 20, dieter runge, 2018
Celebrating Olena (K). woodcut, 10 1/2″ x 15″ 1/2, edition of 20, dieter runge, 2018
The Hokulea at Sea
“The Hokulea at Sea” woodcut, 13″ X 14″, dieter runge, 2017
The Hokulea off Kualoa, woodcut, 15″x18″, dieter runge, 2017.
Fore more on my experience working and sailing on the Hokulea, click HERE