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Los Angeles: Tabulae ad Astra

Maps to the Stars Tabula14

Dirk Hagner, Letterpress, chine-collé, digital grid, on Los Angeles River water-stained paper, 17 by 14 inches

The Artist:  Hagner’s works include a woodcut portrait of Mao Zedong holding hands with Mickey Mouse and posters showing ancient haikus as written in text message format. His art reflects his inspirations (Japanese brush paintings and German expressionism among them) as well as a wry outsider’s observations of American culture. Hagner studied art at Folkwang University of the Arts in Germany. But his passion for printmaking didn’t pay the bills. “So I shifted to graphic design,” he says. Working as the art director of a German department store, he landed in Southern California for a summer fashion photo shoot. He didn’t go back; a romantic relationship led him to San Juan Capistrano, where he moved in 1983. Hagner worked as a freelance graphic artist until 2007, when he returned full time to making his own art, along with teaching printing at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut. “It’s kind of perfect,” he says.

The Artist’s inspiration: L.A. is a city that’s gridded. I wanted the print to have graphical elements, like the grid, but also to have organic features. If I’m too precise, I’m boring. If I’m too loose, it’s like a kid’s drawing. I wanted the maps to look old, so I stained the papers in the river. I used Latin because all the old maps had Latin. The phrases here are a mix of old sayings from Roman and 16th-century times and new ones that I made up relating to Los Angeles: “There is art here somewhere,” “Here there be dragons,” “Land of Streets.” The depictions of maritime beasts are from old maps. The one on the left is a narwhal and the creature on the right looks like a deep-sea fish. The marks and stains were produced accidentally. You know when you want to test the ink? Usually you throw the test away, but I looked at them, and I liked the rhythm. So I made plates of them.

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