However, it’s the dizzy Vorticist influence in today’s woodcuts that I’m enjoying. These were all done towards the end of World War I, during which Wadsworth worked as a camoufleur. But he wasn’t trying to hide anything; rather, his style of camouflage was intended to confuse, making it difficult for German U-boats to determine the exact speed and direction of ships, reducing their ability to target accurately - think of a herd of zebras, perhaps. The ships painted in these huge, crazy, geometric patterns were called Dazzle ships. What’s fun about Wadsworth’s block prints is that they employ the same techniques they depict. That is, while the stripes and zigzags on the ships might be quite accurate and realistic, Wadsworth goes farther by using his geometry to break up outlines, confuse background and foreground, play with light and shadow and how they define form, and, in short, dazzle!
My favorite is the first, showing a most complete and detailed scene. It’s almost exactly the same scene that Wadsworth also used for a major painting the next year, although the painting doesn’t have the dazzle camouflage effect of the black and white block print.
The second piece here is more obviously stylized, with its pillowy waves. Although it’s really simpler than the first, it looks more confused because all the black and white areas are in the same scale. In the first piece I like the way Wadsworth has used smaller shapes as a background for larger shapes, and vice versa. That’s pretty darn bold and sophisticated!
The third piece really gives a sense of the size of these ships and the monumental job it was to paint them. By using a low perspective and a simpler background, Wadsworth makes the ship look truly towering. I especially like the curves of its propeller.
And finally another busier, more confusing one. I really can’t quite tell exactly what’s going on here. As far as I can make out from the writing underneath, this is another dock scene of another ship or ships, but exactly where any given object begins or ends is tough to discern. Which just goes to show how good Wadsworth was at his dazzling job, I suppose!
[Pictures: Liverpool Shipping, woodcut by Edward Wadsworth, 1918;
Dock Scene, woodcut by Wadsworth, c. 1918 (Image from The Metropolitan Museum of Art);
Drydocked for Scaling and Painting, woodcut by Wadsworth, 1918;
Dazzled Ship(s?) in Dry(?) Dock, Liverpool, woodcut by Wadsworth, 1918 (Images from fulltable.com and graphicine.com).]