September 2, 2014

Going With the Grain

        As I mentioned not long ago, one of the things I like about Susan Blair’s Billy Goats Gruff is her use of woodgrain, and here’s another print by another artist that uses woodgrain beautifully.  In this one by Barbara Whipple (U.S. 1921-1989), the woodgrain pattern is just a background, not part of the object depicted, yet I think it really contributes to the picture more than just a simple background.  I don’t know whether Whipple carefully planned how the branches of her tree and the knots and swirls of the wooden plank would match up, or whether it was just serendipity that put them together so well.  I really like the way the tallest spindliest branch is against a thinner area of woodgrain, and how the thickest area is behind the trunk.  Knots fall behind knotted areas of the tree, and the thick area of grain to the upper right almost reminds me of a sort of phantom limb, where a thicker main branch has broken off.
        I’ve always wanted to experiment with woodgrain in my prints, but it isn’t that simple.  An ordinary plank won’t print its grain - you need to use a severely weathered piece, which is unlikely to be flat enough to print well, or you need to use a fine wire brush to artificially weather a flat, new plank, eroding away the softer areas and leaving behind the harder grain.  Someday I may get around to trying this out myself, but for now I’ll just have to stick with enjoying what other artists have done.
        And speaking of what other artists have done, here are a few pieces I’ve featured in the past that include nice woodgrain texture:
     The Fulton Fish Market by Antonio Frasconi
     Astatic by Josef Albers
     Life Rock, Bear Rock, God's Finger by Merlyn Chesterman

[Picture: Bristlecone on the Blue, two-color woodcut by Barbara Whipple, c. 1983 (Image from Annex Galleries).]

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