February 20, 2018

Winter Olympics

        It’s winter Olympics time, and that means block prints (because doesn’t everything mean block prints?)  Here are a selection of prints depicting various winter sports, and you can see that there’s a definite strain of art and a few particular artists who obviously really have fun depicting the action and trying to capture the dynamism and excitement of sports.  There are also a few oddities here, just to add to the diversity.
        I’m starting with a great ski race by Lill Tschudi (Switzerland, 1911-2004), who wanted to be a printmaker from the time she was a child!  She is famous for her machine-age prints of dynamism, and she uses lots of broad, swooping shapes and smooth, curving lines. 
Also by Tschudi is this funny piece depicting an ice-skater spinning.  To me this skater looks more comic than graceful, crunched down into a tubby little shape as his wild twirling lines escape all over the page like a sprung watch spring.  This piece is definitely about depicting the action itself as much or more than the person doing the action.
        The other really famous printmaker of the same era and style is Cyril Power (U.K., 1872-1951), whose three skaters are smoother and more graceful than Tschudi’s twirler.  I suppose there’s no such Olympic sport as synchronized skating with teams of three, but I’ve chosen these to represent figure skating.  (Maybe it’s really just one skater?)  Their outstretched curves and the lines emanating around them all serve to evoke the power as well as the elegance of figure skating.
        The speed skaters are by Paul Cledan (U.K), a contemporary printmaker who lists Tschudi and Power among his influences.  Not that you would need him to say it, since it’s quite clear at first glance!  Like them he’s used simplified shapes in blocks of color to evoke
his moving athletes, and like them he’s got swoops and swirls making the motion visible.  I’ve included three of his pieces in today’s collection, since he has such a nice representation of winter sports.  (He has more, as well, but I do try to keep myself from going overboard.)  His hockey players depict yet another ice skating sport, with yet another vibe: this time the chaos of players converging on the puck, sticks swiping, shoulders down, ice sliced…
        And finally, getting off the skates and onto the bobsled track, you can see how the sled is stretched out behind like a blur or flash.  There’s something about this piece reminiscent of a graphic novel, with its heightened colors, dramatic point of view, and that comet trail of action like what you’d see behind Superman or the Flash.
        An older depiction of a bobsled looks less smooth and more bone-rattling to me.  It also reminds me of the villainous motorcyclists in A-ha’s “Take on Me” video!
        These artists all clearly exalt the athletes with their speed and power, so here’s a different take in an affectionately satirical print depicting one of the odder of winter Olympic sports: curling.  Ray Gloeckler (U.S., b.1928) has been a curler himself, so he knows whereof he carves.  His curler is neither graceful not swift, crouching over his stone in ridiculous concentration.
        And finally, another of the winter Olympics’s odd sports, the biathalon - or at least its predecessor.  If you’ve ever wondered why there's a seemingly random combination of skiing and target shooting, its origins are, of course, in hunting.  This print from Olaus Magnus’s History of the Nordic Peoples depicts Laplanders hunting with bows and skis.  This is, quite simply, a sixteenth-century biathalon.
        The 2018 Olympics will be over soon, but with the magic of art, the athletes race and twirl and clash and swoosh and curl on forever.

[Pictures: Slalom, linocut by Lill Tschudi, 1938 (Image from Masters Gallery Vancouver);
Eislauf (Ice Skating), color linocut by Tschudi;
Skaters, print from three blocks by Cyril Power, 1932 (Image from Pallant House Gallery);
Speed Skaters, lino multi-block print by Paul Cledan;
Ice Hockey, lino multi-block print by Cledan;
Bobsleigh, lino multi-block print by Cledan (Images from Bourneside Gallery);
Olympia Bob Run, linocut?, mid-20th century?, but I can’t track down any details;
Curl, wood block print by Ray Gloeckler (Image from Wisconsin Visual Art Achievement Awards);
On Hunting Tours of the Lapps, wood block print from Book 4, Chapter 12 of Historia de Gentibus Septrionalibus by Olaus Magnus, 1555 (Image from avrosys).]

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