September 25, 2018

Grabados en Madera

        In 1934 the work of seven of Costa Rica’s leading printmakers was collected in a portfolio  entitled Grabados en Madera (Woodcuts) by the Imprenta Nacional in San Jose.  I don’t know anything about the Costa Rican printmaking scene of the 1930s, so I have no idea whether these men were all working together, or were each doing their own thing, but certainly they all seem to share a very similar aesthetic.  Of course, it’s possible that the similarity reflects the publisher’s taste as much as anything, but it would not be unreasonable to assume that artists in a small area would be influencing each other, and would all be influenced by the same sorts of movements in the world.  Here are a few pieces from the collection.
        The first print here, by Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez, is particularly appealing to me.  The man is wonderfully detailed, without really having any detail.  Somehow the few,
simple strokes manage to convey exactly the right set to the shoulders, leaning posture of the body, folds of the trousers, and planes of the face.  The black background and bold wheel are very dramatic, while the face is amazingly subtle.
        This church by Teodorico Quiros is particularly woody.  You can see the wood grain in the printing, and the slightly rough edges, and somehow the relatively thin lines of the border and background hills seem to accentuate that Quiros is carving on a flat plank.  I especially like the patterns on the steeple.
        Carlos Salazar Herrera did some prints with more detail than this one of people in the plaza, but I am always fascinated by how so much can be depicted with so little.  The people are very simplified, just white blobs and lines on a black background, but we have all we need to picture the scene.  I especially like the legs of the man standing on the right.  The person cross-legged beneath the tree in the background is a particularly impressive hieroglyphic, while the mule coming directly towards the viewer is also surprisingly successful.  (Surprising to me, anyway!  Salazar Herrera was probably perfectly confident about it.)
        This final scene of buildings, by Gilbert Laporte, is somewhat unusual for these prints, in having a white background.  It’s also got an interesting composition with so very much blank sky.  I especially like the details of the tower and dome, and the way the electric wires go right ahead and cut across the picture without embarrassment.

[Pictures: Afilador (Grinder), woodcut by Manuel de la Cruz Gonzalez, 1934;
Iglesia de Orosi (Church of Orosi), woodcut by Teodorico Quiros, 1934;
En La Plaza (In the Plaza), woodcut by Carlos Salazar Herrera, 1934;
Avenida Segunda (Second Avenue), woodcut by Gilbert Laporte, 1934
(All images from Annex Galleries).]

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