February 1, 2019

Woodcuts by Phyllis


      Phyllis Gardner (England, 1890-1939) specialized in wood carving at the Slade School, and obviously included wood block printing in that category, as well as sculpture.  She later became a breeder of Irish wolfhounds and clearly loved dogs.  I love this woodcut of a dog, and although the British Museum describes it as a St Bernard, Gardner doesn’t seem to have titled the piece, and it looks more like a border collie to me.  Still, I’m no dog expert, so I’ll stick to block printing: I like the boldness of the design, without sacrificing sensitivity, and I like the three swaths of background area, sweeping sky, solid black, and beautifully patterned lawn.  Gardner signs all her pieces with her first name only, in Greek.
        This second piece is interesting because it has so little white.  The entire image is composed of thin and even thinner white lines on black.  Nevertheless, it shows the arches in the shadowy interior, the suspended model ship common in coastal churches, and the sprinkle of light through the leaded windows.  The composition is interesting because you’d think the focal point would be the votive ship or maybe the window, and instead the most striking part of the piece is the framing arches.
        Gardner has used thin lines again, but for a very different effect in this third piece.  The lines right across all the background buildings of the town give the impression of one huge building rather than a jumble of smaller ones, but it also allows the ships’ rigging to show up interestingly.  She does manage the width of the lines so as to make the steeple show up behind the chimneys on the left, though.  The water, by contrast, is curvy instead of straight, with larger areas of black and white instead of even “grey” texture.  I like the punch of the different texture of the stone wall, as well.
        I enjoy Gardner’s use of line and darkness.  She’s taking advantage of what makes block printing different and special.

[Pictures: Dog, woodcut by Phyllis Gardner, 1913-24;
Church at Yarmouth, woodcut by Gardner, 1913-24;
Yarmouth Harbour, woodcut  by Gardner, 1913-24 (All images from The British Museum).]

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