April 13, 2012

Wood Engravings by Phipps

        Howard Phipps (b. 1954) is a British wood engraver in the traditional style.  His works demonstrate incredible mastery of the medium, both in their design and in their carving.  He's especially interested in landscapes and beautifully portrays both wide vistas and intimate vignettes.
        This first one is quite charming - in fact, if it were a painting it might be in danger of Quaintness.  But the dignity of carving and of printing in black and white keeps it from sentimentalism.  It's got a terrific range of textures, too: the sky, the thatch, the stones, the plants in the foreground…

        This next one exemplifies serene pastoral beauty.  I love how the water has movement but still feels calm.  I love how Phipps has given the scene an impression of dappled light.  In fact, let's talk about shadows.  In this print of a greenhouse Phipps shows his particular skill for shadows.  Remember, on a relief print, unlike a painting, you can't shade in after the fact.  You have to know exactly where the shadows will fall, and deliberately carve away the wood in smaller
amounts, either thinner or fewer white lines (or both).  When the shadow falls on something textured, as it does on the grass in this piece, you have to keep a look of the same texture while in fact carving differently enough to allow different proportions of black to white.

        Remember that wood engravings tend to be quite small, because they're done on end grain rather than planks.  All of these are smaller than 5 inches along a side, and this arrangement of garden tools, almost a still life, is only two inches square.  Putting so much care into such a tiny view of such an unimportant part of the world feels like a love song.  It makes you realize that it isn't so unimportant after all.
        And finally, I've still got rabbits on the brain.  This is a March Hare, but clearly a perfectly sane one, wary but unpaniced.  I think he (or she?) is just gorgeous.  And notice the tiny church away in the distance across the fields!  Isn't it perfect?

[Pictures: Fishing Huts at Prussia Cove, wood engraving by Howard Phipps;
Homington Water Meadows, wood engraving by Phipps;
Old Greenhouse, Little Bredy, wood engraving by Phipps;
Corner of the Garden, wood engraving by Phipps;
March Hare, wood engraving by Phipps.
(All images from Bircham Gallery.)]


Pax said...

Exquisite! Thanks once again for introducing me to a wood engraver I had not known.

Nan said...

Oh, my, I love these. I just want to walk into the second one and spend an afternoon.