June 7, 2011

Jacques Hnizdovsky's Block Prints

       I first encountered the work of Jacques Hnizdovsky on the cover of a blank journal in the clearance bin at a bookstore.  I always buy the cheapest remainder journals I can find, so I've lived with some pretty atrocious-looking covers over the years, but the instant I saw this one it was unconditional love.  Hnizdovsky's style is unlike anyone else's, and it's full of affection for his subjects.  How could you resist the solemn, silly dignity of this wonderful ibex?
        Hnizdovsky (1915-1985) was born in the Ukraine and came to the US in 1949.  Eventually relief block printing became his primary medium, and plants and animals his primary subjects.  (He also did lots of designs for bookplates, a topic I plan to feature at some point.)  Apparently he started with plants and animals because they made cheaper, more readily available models than humans, but before long he was exploring plant and animal subjects by choice, not necessity.
        Hnizdovsky's designs are distinctly stylized, and his patterns are often refined to the point of mathematical regularity.  He brings order to every object.  Yet at the same time his details are always accurately observed and perfectly carved.  The sunflower below is a bit of an extreme example and not my favorite of his pieces, but I think it illustrates well both his mathematical bent and the skill of his carving.  (Don't forget to click on the pictures to get a better view of the details.)
        His official web site has a really nice, detailed description of his technique here.  Apparently he planned out every line before carving, leaving nothing to the spontaneous chances of carving.  That explains why even the most detailed and complex patterns in his pieces always look so perfectly controlled.  I love everything
about this pelican, from its expression to the regularity of its feathers to its wonderful webbed feet.
        I say that I first encountered Hnizdovsky's work on that journal cover, but in fact I found out later that I'd seen his work before without knowing it.  When I was at Yale I loved the image of Harkness Tower that was often used on publications.  But it was only later, when I became interested in Hnizdovsky and began to research more of his work, that I discovered that he was the artist of that beautiful woodcut.
        Check out all the additional images on the official Hnizdovsky web site, and I think you'll very quickly understand (if you don't already) why he's one of my all-time favorite artists.
[Pictures: Ibex, linocut by Jacques Hnizdovsky, 1972;
Zebrina Pendula, woodcut by J. Hnizdovsky, 1968;
Opsunflower, linocut by J. Hnizdovsky, 1965;
Pelican, woodcut by J. Hnizdovsky, 1966
Harkness Tower, woodcut by J. Hnizdovsky, 1977
Bronx Express, woodcut by J. Hnizdovsky, 1960.]


Pax said...

Thanks! I can count on this blog to teach me something new. I hadn't been familiar with Jacques Hnizdovsky before. He definitely does cool work. So, was the ibex on the cover on the journal?

Anne E.G. Nydam said...

Yes, it was the ibex on the journal cover.