December 18, 2015

Christmas Lights?

        This time of year I enjoy the holiday lights brightening houses in my neighborhood in the all-too-early dark.  So I thought this would be a good time to share this interesting wood block print by Zsigmond Walleshausen Von Cselény (Hungary, 1887 or 1888 - 1957?).  It shows floodlit buildings in Budapest seen from the river, with lights bright against the black night, and fainter reflected in the water.  I tried to check on how long Budapest had been electrified in 1928, the date of the piece, because I wondered if the whole idea of floodlit buildings, so standard for us today, might still have been a bit of a novelty at that time.  I couldn’t find the information, but I did discover that Budapest had one of the earliest subway systems, so they may have been early adopters of electricity, as well, and therefore this scene might not have been new to the artist.  Clearly, though, it’s one he appreciated!
        One of the most interesting things about this piece is the carving technique.  The larger white areas are carved out with very zig-zaggy lines as if Walleshausen rocked or jittered his tool as he cut.  (I haven’t seen something like this since Julius Griffith.)  The unlit objects are suggested with just the merest thin outlines, cut with a fine blade moving straight instead of rocking.  But the marks creating the reflected light are even more interesting.  It looks as if Walleshausen simply stabbed the wood over and over with the v-shaped tip of his gouge.  I did something like that on the hind leg of my Iguana at Uxmal.  For me it actually took two stabs, very close together, to take out just a tiny bit of wood and make the V’s show up.  I don’t know how Walleshausen actually created his marks, but clearly he was interested in the different effects that different ways of using his tools would have.  I think it works remarkably well for suggesting the twinkling of the lights in the water.
        I have no idea what time of year this scene represents, or whether it actually had anything to do with the winter holidays.  Still, I think it’s pretty cool, and I’m enjoying the way it evokes one of my favorite things about this time of year.  After all, don’t holiday illuminations carve light out of darkness just like relief block prints?

[Picture: A Kivilágitott Halászbástya (Floodlit Fisherman’s Bastion), woodcut by Zsigmond Walleshausen Von Cselény, 1928 (Image from Annex Galleries).]

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