May 3, 2011

Cyril Power's "Tube Train"

        Cyril Power (1872-1951) is an artist known for his linocuts, especially posters done during the 1930s.  His work was generally printed in color, with separate blocks for each color of ink, and sweeping stylization and motion in a perfect ecstasy of modernism.  Born in London, Power worked first as an architect and didn't learn how to do linoleum block prints until he was in his 40's.  Once he learned, though, he advanced quickly and was soon exhibiting, receiving commissions, and teaching.  Later in his life he turned more to oil painting.
        I've featured Power's 1934 linocut "The Tube Train" not because it's my favorite.  It's a good representative
sample of Power's style, but I don't really like the people's faces or the look of the multiple colors where they're all overlapped together.  It looks sort of muddy to me.  I'm featuring it, however, because I found it pictured in Hard Pressed by David Platzker and Elizabeth Wyckoff, along with something very interesting: images of trial proofs from two of the individual blocks.  It's not often that you can see the separate parts that went into the making of a multi-block print.  If you look closely you can see that these blocks are not in their final state before the complete print.  Changes are easy to see on the ceiling of the train car, where the final
version has no blue or green ink at all, but these blocks in their trial state still have color there.  You can also see in the blue block that Power had not yet carved out the areas that would become the knees of the passengers on the right.  I find it fascinating to get a glimpse of how Power worked.
        There's one more interesting thing about these trial proofs: I have to say that I actually like the blue block better than the final image!
        Here's another of Power's pieces that is in many ways very similar to "The Tube Train," but which I really like.  It's impressive to compare the two and see how Power used such a similar style of curves and colors, yet in "The Tube Train" he makes them look claustrophobic, while in "The Tube Station" the same elements give an impression of space and sweeping motion.  He seems to be in such confident control of his medium, something I still aspire to.

[Pictures: The Tube Train, linocut in four blocks by Cyril Power, c 1934;
     Two trial proof blocks for The Tube Train by Cyril Power, c 1934 (pictures from The Metropolitan Museum of Art);
     The Tube Station, linocut in multiple blocks by Cyril Power, c 1932 (picture from Catherine Burns).]


Anonymous said...

I really like Power's perspective, especially the curvilinear view down the platform. And think about it. In the 1930s all the readers have their noses in a newspaper. I was reminded of that old full-page ad that appeared in the New Yorker in the 1950s - "In Philadelphia, Nearly Everybody Reads the Bulletin." [ or was that The Inquirer?] If that scene were done today, the people would all be wearing ear plugs connected to their smart phones in their hands. But equally detached from those around them. Times do change, and not always for the better.
The Aging Wordsmith

JohnR said...

Thank you for your blog entry on this print.
I only recently became aware of it and was very intrigued with the multi-colored printing.

I've only done 4 or 5 one-color prints and realize the difficulty in registering. To do that with that many multiple blocks, registering them perfectly... had to be very difficult.

I was curious as to whether he'd used multiple blocks, or the suicide method, using only 1 block. You've answered my question.

To be honest with you, at first I found it difficult to believe that he could have printed using that many colors.
I suspected that he may have painted ink on top of printing.
I'm sure it's all printing, I just couldn't fathom the difficulty in using that many colors and having it turn out correct.
I am very impressed with Cyril Power.

I like this print. A lot.