December 2, 2014

Spitzer's Landscapes

        James Spitzer (US b. 1936) has a very distinctive style, all blobby shapes with lots of inked lines left in the carved out areas.  In fact, he never makes any spaces pure white; his carved areas always have fairly heavy texture from the blade.  His landscapes look like fantasies or doodles, but they’re actually based on real places.  I’m not familiar enough with any of these places to know what sort of resemblance Spitzer has captured, but I really get a kick out of them in any case.  His clouds look as solid as his hills, and his skies as thick as his rivers.  His buildings look as round as his trees, and his grass, air, and pavement all 
have the hairy texture of a friendly monster.  His bridges dance, his hills are scoops of ice cream, and his outlines have the happy confidence of a toddler.  These are exuberant block prints.
        I don’t have any first-hand information about his technique, but looking at these images it seems to me that Spitzer is very careful and deliberate with his thick black outlines, and then spontaneous and impromptu with his textures and carving out the inside areas.  Most of the time he seems to use only one blade for everything, although the very top edge and corners of the sky 
in “Hurley Bridge” and “Bridge at Damping Wind” appear to have been done with a wider blade.  Obviously this is no accident - Spitzer has deliberately chosen the blade and carving style that will leave all those little dashes of ink, and he carves in different patterns depending on the design he wants (mostly horizontals, or following the curve of the outlines).
        I would probably have guessed that these pieces were from the 60s, but they’re actually all from the early 90s.  I don’t have any examples of what sort of work Spitzer might have been doing back in the 60s except 2 muddy, angular acrylics posted at the same gallery.  But whatever influences contributed to Spitzer’s wood block aesthetic, this is clearly his own particular style, and I find it delightful.

[Pictures: Hurley Bridge, woodcut by James Spitzer, 1991;
Bridge at Damping Wind, woodcut by Spitzer, 1992;
Bodega Near the Bay, woodcut by Spitzer, 1990;
Rhone River, woodcut by Spitzer, 1990;
The Overpass at Ringaway Ave, woodcut by Spitzer, 1991
(All images from The Annex Galleries).]

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