May 7, 2013

Birdsall's Cheetah

        This last weekend was an Open Studio, but I have nothing in particular to report.  The block I was carving isn't finished yet.  (Is that a good sign?  It implies I was too busy talking with people to get as much carving done.)  I'm still getting the bookkeeping finished and all the Stuff stowed back away, not to mention the need to catch up on the housework that didn't get done for the weekend… or indeed for the entire week before.  So that means today is a good day to share a piece I've been saving up for a day when I didn't have much time.
        This is a wood block print my parents have in their house.  It was a part of my landscape growing up and I've always loved it.  Is it pieces like this that planted the seeds of block printing in me?  Who knows.  At any rate, I admired it as a child and I still admire it now.
        The artist is Byron Birdsall, currently working in Alaska and Washington state.  I couldn't find much biographical information on him, and his current work is all watercolors and full-color prints that, I'm very sorry to say, do absolutely nothing for me.  So that just means that this cheetah can be left to speak for itself.
        I like all the speckles hanging around the dirt and sparse grass of the background.  They make the scene look dry, with a suggestion of bugs.  I like the abstract pattern in the upper left.  I've no idea exactly what that is - cloud, or brush, or what - but I don't need to know.  It looks just right without being as representational as the cheetah, which is the sort of boldness I've never been able to manage.  I like the low hills far away on a horizon that clearly show the vastness of these plains.  But most of all I love the cheetah: the alertness of its head combined with the relaxation of its body - the kind of relaxation possible only for a creature who goes full-out at 60mph when not relaxing.  The forelimbs are so delicate, the eyes so calm, and the hindquarters so powerful that the portrait really captures the essence of cheetah.
        As for the printing, the black is wonderfully rich and velvety, although obviously this photo doesn't do it justice.  In fact, whatever ink Birdsall used is so very rich that it's actually starting to react a little bit with the paper.  Unfortunately it must have some acid to it or something.  And that's just one more reminder that art, like the cheetah in the wild, has that strange, seemingly contradictory combination of power and fragility.

[Picture:  Cheetah, wood block print by Byron Birdsall (some time in the 1960's?).  (Photo by MJPG.)  More of Birdsall's work can be viewed here.]

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