September 8, 2017

Squirrels

        Here’s a charming wood block print by Li Qun (China, 1912-2012).  Li Qun was one of the foremost block print artists in China for nearly a century, and over that time he demonstrated a variety of styles and techniques.  As a good communist, much of his work focused on the workers and soldiers, but this one with a simple nature theme is especially delightful.  The carving looks a little rough, with the wiggly edges to the squirrels and tree trunks, but that’s a bit deceptive.  All the tiny white spaces among the incredibly detailed branches must have been quite time-consuming and difficult to carve.  There’s also something quite interesting about the white twigs on a black background: they’re carved with individual little disconnected strokes instead of being continuous lines.
        Another interesting discontinuity about Li Qun's art is that it appears that much of his work was not printed until long after it was designed.  This piece, for example, was designed in 1980 and printed in 1999.  I’m not sure what to make of this information.  First of all, is the carving defined as part of "designing" or part of "printing"?  Because I think of designing as drawing the design on paper, and printing as inking the block and pressing, while carving is its own thing in the middle.  And secondly, does it mean Li Qun began pulling impressions immediately, but kept going for twenty years?  It isn’t an open edition, but he could have printed new impressions only as the older ones sold.  Or did he for some reason set his blocks aside for years before printing them at all?  It’s very strange.
        At any rate, this seems like a good late autumnal scene, with its leafless tree and scampering squirrels, and it makes me happy on this lovely early autumn day.

[Picture: In the Trees, woodcut by Li Qun, designed 1980, printed 1999 (Image from Ashmolean).]

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