Grime of passion! W’burg artist combines Japanese printmaking with dirt

Grime of passion! W’burg artist combines Japanese printmaking with dirt
Photo by Stefano Giovannini

And you thought dirty water was just for hot dogs.

A Williamsburg painter who goes by the name of Sto Len is making a practice out of combining the seriousness of ancient Japanese art with the irreverence of playing with dirt and filth. He will show off the results in a new solo exhibition titled “A–hats for S—heads,” opening Sept. 12 at Booklyn Artists Alliance in Greenpoint.

Len began working with Japanese sumi ink and experimenting with calligraphy a few years ago.

“I started mimicking it,” he said. “I turned it into my own abstract language.”

He then discovered suminagashi or “floating ink,” a 12th-century Japanese process that involves soaking up ink swirled on water with paper. In this style, an artist floats the ink on top of water for a few minutes to create a pattern and then lays down the paper for a few seconds to transfer to the design.

But Len decided to do it a bit differently. He bought a large inflatable swimming pool, which he set up in his studio, filled with water, then left to get filthy. Len lets ink sit in the fetid pool for as long as a week to allow it to collect items such as hair, bugs, and dust, before laying a piece of paper on top. The end result looks similar to the ancient marbled papers, but with the added element of filth and grime.

“I was doing it so that the prints would come out kind of dirty and textured,” he said. “Walking around the city, I love spills of gas and oil in water and accidental things like that. They are huge inspirations for me.”

The name of his show might sound juvenile, but Len said “A–hats for S—heads” refers to the positive impact his art practise has on his life.

“When I am working, it is the only time I feel totally free of all the s—heads in my life or even free of being a s—head myself,” said Len. “It is about putting all that negative stuff in its place and being happy and doing your thing.”

“A–hats for S—heads” opening reception at Booklyn Artists Alliance [37 Greenpoint Ave. between West and Franklin streets in Greenpoint, (718) 383–9621, www.bookl‌yn.org]. Sept. 12 at 7 pm. Free. Show runs through Nov. 9.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf‌[email protected]‌ngloc‌al.com or by calling (718) 260-2511. Follow her at twitt‌er.com/‌Danie‌lleFu‌rfaro.