May 10, 2016

Initials

        I like to carve my initials in my blocks, and I plan to discuss that next time, but first I thought I’d take a look at what other artists do.  Skimming through the various artists I’ve featured here over the years, the first thing I discover is that most of them don’t bother to include their initials in the block at all.  And really, that makes a lot of sense when two likely scenarios are illustrations for a book, in which the artist’s name will be on the cover, and individual prints which the artist will
have signed directly below the image anyway.  Why bother with the
redundancy of carving something into the block that will be fiddly and probably add nothing to the composition?  So most artists don’t seem to bother, and many others are inconsistent, including initials in some blocks but not others.
        M.C. Escher, however, famously put his initials on everything he did, always the same stylized letter blocks, often with the date, usually sitting plainly in a corner of the block.  Whether Escher was leading a trend or following one, it seems to me that he worked at the time of highest popularity of initials.  Most of the other artists who carve an initial or monogram into their block were also working around the first half of the twentieth century.  Many of them include simple capital letters, such as Félix Vallotton, Herbert Pullinger, and Julie de Graag.  Some dress their initials up a little,
including Herschel Logan putting his L in a neat square, and Jan Mankes superimposing his initials into a monogram.  A few artists write out their names, including Charles Turzak and Robert Bonfils, while Jim Edd Spencer uses a symbol that doesn’t look like letters at all.  Then there are the Asian artists with chops and the addition of their name/monogram within the image, but not actually as part of the block, as in this example by Toshijiro Inagaki.
        In all these examples, though, the artists make their mark separate from the rest of the composition, usually simply down in a lower corner where there might be a convenient spot.  It was one of the earliest artists to add his initials who was also the most innovative about how he did it.  Albrecht Dürer’s monogram is always the same stylized shape, but he uses quite a bit of creativity in how and where he incorporates it into his pictures.  It’s often placed on a sort of plaque or other object sitting in the scene, and it’s appropriately distorted by perspective or shading as the scene requires.  I really enjoy that Dürer obviously had a little fun deciding how he was going to incorporate his monogram into his work, and that’s the transition into my next post, on how I like to try to do the same.

[Pictures: detail from Tower of Babel, woodcut by M.C. Escher, 1928;
detail from The Jungfrau, woodblock print by Félix Vallotton, 1892;
detail from Farm House, wood engraving by Herbert Pullinger;
detail from Twee uilen (Two Owls) woodcut by Julie de Graag, 1921;
detail from Dust Storm, block print by Herschel Logan, 1938;
detail from Zilverwyandotte, wood block print by Jan Mankes, 1917;
detail from Granary 2. linoleum cut by Jim Edd Spencer, 1934;
detail from Yasaka Pagoda, woodblock print by Toshijiro Inagaki, 1950s;
detail from Chicago Snow Storm, wood block print by Charles Turzak, 1934;
detail from L’Orage, relief block print by Robert Bonfils, c 1920’s;
detail from Noli me tangere, woodcut by Albrecht Dürer, 1511;
detail from The Flight Into Egypt, woodcut by Dürer, 1503;
detail from St George and the Dragon, woodcut by Dürer, 1501-4.]

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