April 25, 2014

Mammals by Moser

        Barry Moser (USA, b. 1940) is one of the best known printmakers at work today, since his work appears as illustrations in many high-profile books, including Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Moby-Dick, and The Bible.  He does “wood” engraving, but often uses resingrave, a synthetic substitute for the hard end-grain wood.  Unfortunately, he doesn’t seem to have made an alphabet book, but I did find a book of animals, written by his daughter, with relief print illustrations by Moser.  Ever Heard of an Aardwolf? gives a handful of interesting facts about an assortment of unusual animals (that all happen to be mammals.)  Each creature gets a big, beautiful relief print portrait by Moser, all with his signature dark, shadowy look.
        In the main body of the book the illustrations have been colored with watercolor, which doesn’t actually add a lot of color, as most of the creatures are fairly dull, brownish shades anyway.  To my pleasure, each animal is listed again at the end of the book, with a little more information, and with a plain black and white version of its portrait.  These black and white images are much smaller, but still enough for me to savor their beautiful color-free contrast.
        I’ve chosen four of my favorites to share today.  Yes, I confess to liking the cute ones, and the bush baby above is certainly cute.  Bush babies are also part of the inspiration for the “leaf babies” in the Otherworld (introduced in Vision Revealed) and I’ve always liked them.  The loris, on the other hand, is like a weird, uglier bush baby, and Moser has captured this one’s shy, befuddled look.
        The flying fox is one of my favorite animals, and works well with Moser’s meticulous, dark style.  So much plain black is an unusual compositional choice, but works well with this nighttime creature peeking out from within its shadowy wings.  Moser may have lots of solid black areas in his prints, but he almost never has solid white areas.  Everything’s modeled and shaded with fine lines.
        And finally, the pangolin, a creature made for a medium that emphasizes texture and pattern over color.  A scaled mammal, the pangolin is surely related somehow to dragons!  The claws could do a dragon proud, too, but it has no teeth at all.  In this piece Moser’s done that trick I always find so fascinating: revealing the form without any outlines.  As usual, his technique and skill are astonishing.

[Pictures: Bush baby;
Flying fox;
Pangolin, all relief engravings by Barry Moser from Ever Heard of an Aardwolf? by Madeline Moser, 1996.]

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