April 11, 2014

Kent Ambler's Woodcuts

        Kent Ambler is an artist working in South Carolina.  He does lots of woodcuts, with a special emphasis on birds, although lots of other themes also crop up through his work.  Most of his woodcuts are done with multiple colors on multiple blocks: often rather muted, earthy colors, but sometimes with pops of brightness.  He has a distinctive style that leaves lots of shallowly carved background.  No area is ever completely solid or smooth.  You can really see this in the sky of this first piece.  Ambler has used black, and two shades of greenish grey, and all three of these contribute their mottled marks to the twilit sky.  (There’s also the yellow of the lit windows.  I’ve always loved the look of lit windows at dusk.  I don’t know whether Ambler used a whole ‘nother block for the yellow, or simply hand-colored the 9 small rectangles.)
        I wanted to include a couple of single block black and white pieces, too, of course, and this terapin has plenty of personality.  The block is fairly large, 10x14, so you can see that the carving is very rough and bold.  No fiddly little details here.  However there are a few interesting carving marks visible, such as the little lines of dots along the edges of the shell at the back.  I’m guessing they’re made by pressing in the tip of a multi-line tool.  There are deep cuts and shallow scoops, and areas that look more
like abrasions than actual carving.  An image like this could never be anything but a wood block print.
        In this one I love the contrast of the very black silhouetted birds against the complex tapestry of the tree behind.  Once again there are some interesting different sorts of marks making up the texture of the tree and background.  Ambler says “Mark making is the main focus of my woodcut prints,” and you can certainly see that he experiments with the wood.  Ambler has lots and lots of images of birds perched among branches, but most of them use multiple color blocks.  I like how this plain black and white one almost seems to have more complexity in its simplicity. 
        This final example makes great use of the colored blocks to show that moment when the sky is still bright but the earth is almost wholly dark.  
There are lots and lots of individually carved little birds, but there are also all those scrappy, ink-smudged bits of shallowly-carved background filling the sky with even more motion.
        To see loads more work by Kent Ambler, visit his web site.

[Pictures: Quiet Night, color woodcut with multiple blocks by Kent Ambler;
Terapin, woodcut by Ambler;
Spring Sassafras, woodcut by Ambler;
Migration, color woodcut with multiple blocks by Ambler (Images from kentambler.net).]

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