June 17, 2014

Wood Block Prints by Xiang Silou

        Xiang Silou (Chinese, b. 1956) is a wood block artist doing absolutely amazing work.  He’s particularly known for large scale intricately detailed portraits of faces, especially of elderly people from ethnic minorities of China.  He gives the faces incredible detail, and incredible dignity, hinting at the innumerable stories of people’s lives.  In the words of one art director, “He carves each line with feeling; they represent people’s stories and emotions.  He is inviting [viewers] to try to read the story 
on their faces, and to care and love them.”
        Exact information on Xiang’s pieces is a little hard to come by on the internet, so that for any given piece I probably couldn’t find the actual dimensions, or the date, or even the title.  The first face shown here is 90 x 120cm, way bigger than anything I’ve ever done, but the only place I could find the title given was in Chinese, which is all Greek to me.  I’d love to be able to find more comprehensive information on these pieces - but what I’d really love is to see Xiang’s work in person, to feel the full impact, and then to get my eyes right up close and see the tiny details and the 
marks of carving and pressing.  (Xiang apparently presses by hand, presumably with a traditional baren.)  I wouldn’t even begin to know where to carve and where to leave black in order to get these effects of contours, softness, and expression.
        Xiang’s portraits have been compared to landscapes because of his attention to the contours created by age and weathering.  He also does actual landscapes, and they too are 
characterized by intricate detail, but also by looser, more stylized shapes, more reminiscent of traditional Chinese brush painting.  But much like his portraits, his landscapes also serve as invitations to consider what stories might be taking place here.  Despite all the detail, there’s always some mystery, too.  Here’s an artist with a unique and beautiful vision, and the ability to share it with the rest of us.



[Pictures: Mother(?), woodcut by Xiang Silou, 2011 (Image from UC Santa Cruz);
unknown, woodcut by Xiang, c. 2005 (Image from Ricefield centre);
Rooftops of home town, woodcut by Xiang;
unknown, woodcut by Xiang, 1999 (Images from Guanlan Prints);
Waverly Station, Edinburgh, woodcut by Xiang, 2006 (Image from Frames Gallery).]

Quotation from Lin Chau of the Ricefield Center, as reported in The Scotsman, March 26, 2008.

2 comments:

  1. What beautiful, expressive faces. Thanks for introducing us to Xiang. Perhaps a local art museum could be encouraged to mount a show of Xiang prints?

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  2. This was part of a breathtaking exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.
    http://www.artic.edu/exhibition/cutting-edges-contemporary-chinese-woodblock-prints
    The prints were huge and beautiful! See Chinese Printmaking Today, ed. Anne Farrer for more of the prints. S.

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