November 1, 2016

Wood Engravings by E. White

        A visitor at one of my recent events put me onto British wood engraver Ethelbert White (1891-1972).  Produced in the 1920’s and 30’s, his work has a definite vibe of the era: that push and pull between modernism and nostalgia.  A lot of his work features pastoral and agricultural scenes, but I’ve most enjoyed some more urban, architectural images, so that’s what I’m sharing with you today.
        White was among the movement advocating relief block printmaking as an artist’s medium, using the materials as a mode of artistic expression in their own right, rather than simply reproducing another artist’s design.  This tends to result in more black, more sketchiness of line, more details suggested with just a hint of line or shadow, more interesting variations of tool use producing more variety of textures…  Wood engraving is particularly conducive to drawing with white on black instead of black on white like most other art media: pencil, ink, paint, etc.
        Wood engravings are necessarily fairly small, but White’s are quite large for the medium, often in the neighborhood of 5-8 inches on a side.
        White’s scenes always have people, and I like his people best when they’re either so insignificant as to be ignorable, or an important enough part of the scene and composition to have a little personality.  I like the portly gentleman in the Royal Exchange and the bent back of the sailor at Recco.
        A few other details that particularly please me: the framing tree over the scene of the Pont Neuf, and the beautiful details of the bridge itself; the horses and carts at the Royal Exchange, suggested with such efficiency; the vehicle at St George’s, Hanover Square, placing the scene in a particular time; the slightly rougher carving of the sky over Recco, contrasting with the very fine, thin lines of engraving on the buildings.  Altogether I very much like White’s balance of black, white, and texture.  Some wood engraving has a tendency to get a little samey, all fine grey texture, and I love a little more punch and contrast.  I’m so pleased to have been introduced to Ethelbert White and his relief block prints!

[Pictures: Le Pont Neuf, wood engraving by Ethelbert White, c. 1924 (Image from Abbot and Holder)
The Four Courts, Dublin, woodcut by White, c. 1928 (Image from Abbot and Holder)
Recco, wood engraving by White, c. 1930 (Image from Ernest Brown & Phillips)
St. George’s, Hanover Square, wood engraving by White, 1924 (Image from Ernest Brown & Phillips)
The Royal Exchange, wood engraving by White, 1923 (Image from Conrad Graeber).]

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