September 15, 2017

Block Prints by Buller

        Cecil Buller (Canada, 1886-1973) is half of another block printing couple, and I’ll feature her husband next post.  As with my previous couple, the Zorachs, Buller and her husband have many similarities in their styles, but for now we’ll just look at her on her own.  One of her most famous projects was a series of illustrations for Song of Solomon, which naturally features lots and lots of embracing nudes.  In fact, Buller loves her nudes altogether, and her nudes are very characteristic of their time as well as her style.  They are very stylized, with lots of musculature and almost lumpiness of anatomy, as their bodies are composed of many areas, each formed and shaded with many strokes.  I confess to not being a huge fan, so the pieces I offer you today are those that stood out to me as being a little different and more appealing.
        First up is representative of some of Buller’s more expressionistic work.  It seems very symbolic, with its white-gowned maiden and black-robed crone.  I like the way the maiden’s garland is composed of such simple strokes with the multi-line tool, which yet so clearly resolve themselves into flowers.  I like the chandelier floating above like a celestial constellation instead of a light fixture.  I like the variety of marks and textures forming the different areas, especially the wall along the right, with all its doorways for entrances and exits.
        I also have two of the illustrations from Song of Solomon.  The first is what you might expect: the lovers in a beautiful garden in some secluded paradise.  They take pleasure in each other’s company among the palm trees beside a fountain.  It all looks very plausibly Biblical, despite the presence of that wonderful tropical traveller’s tree (ravenala) which is native to Madagascar and therefore presumably unknown to King Solomon.


On the other hand, perhaps Buller was very consciously placing her lovers in a non-Biblical setting as she did in this second illustration set in a city.  I really like this one (despite the danger of arrest for indecent exposure.)  I love the perspective of the skyscrapers towering over the viewer, the different facets of the buildings, the bright night sky, and the lovers glowing together in the darkness.



[Pictures: Theatre, wood engraving by Cecil Buller, 1950;
Song of Solomon, Chapter I, Verse 1, wood engraving by Buller, 1929;
Song of Solomon, Chapter III, Verse 2, wood engraving by Buller, 1929 (Images from National Gallery of Canada).]

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