March 31, 2017

Block Printmaker Eichenberg

        Last post I explained how I was picking for this alphabet series artists with less work, and now right off the bat I’m breaking that plan with Fritz Eichenberg (Germany/USA, 1901-1990).  Eichenberg is a major and prolific artist in the world of wood engraving.  His work is technically spectacular, dense, detailed, with amazing control of shading.  He also does a lot of work with a spiritual and political focus, much of which is very powerful.  However, while I admire his work immensely, I find that I usually don’t quite like it.  It’s a little too ugly, a little too satirical and dark-spirited - disturbing rather than uplifting.  Nevertheless, here are a few that I think are pretty cool.
        The first two pieces really demonstrate the drama for which Eichenberg is so well known.  They use the optical drama of black and white to create a sense of psychological drama - in the first piece, suspense and foreboding, and in the second, sympathy and awe.  (And I picked the third piece just because it goes with the Word of the Month.)

        I don’t have so many other E printmakers, but Escher alone should keep you plenty busy…
Escher, M.C. (Plus many other posts.  Just "Search This Blog" in the sidebar!)

Word of the Month
        E is also for Etymology, and as today’s the last post of the month, here’s one fun Word of the Month etymology for you.
        Easel, on which a painter works and a printmaker might display his work, comes from the Dutch for the lowly “ass, donkey.”  English borrowed the word in the 1590s, when Dutch painting was in its Golden Age with Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals, Rembrandt, and many more.  Clearly English-speakers were eager to get in on the artistic act, although the Dutch meaning doesn’t seem very glamorous.  The idea is of a beast of burden holding something for you, and it isn’t so far-fetched after all when you compare it with our own English sawhorse.

[Pictures: The Assignation, wood engraving by Fritz Eichenbeg from The Tales of Edgar Allen Poe, 1944 (Image from Davidson Galleries);
Christ of the Breadline, wood engraving by Eichenberg, 195o (Image from Danny Coleman);
Illustration (Donkey Kicking) from Till Eulenspiegel, 1922 (Image from Davidson Galleries).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter E

March 29, 2017

Block Printmaker Disertori

        This is the time to point out that for each letter of the alphabet there are multiple possible artists that I haven’t yet featured.  For purposes of these posts I’m not choosing the artists who could have the longest posts of their own in which I have difficulty selecting only five or six pieces to share.  Instead, to keep things simple, I’m picking the one-hit wonders, the artists about whom I have little information, or those for whom I have only one or two pieces to share.  There will, of course, be plenty more posts about plenty more artists in the future.  For today I have Benvenuto Disertori (Italy, 1887-1969) and a piece I discovered in The New Woodcut from 1930.  I like the silhouetted feel of the cactus, and how the piece gives an impression of being very simple, when in fact there’s really quite a lot of delicate detail.
        One more tiny, pleasing piece by Disertori is apparently an Ex Libris, of which he did many.  I don’t know how useful a bookplate it is without the owner’s name, but that just makes it all the better as a miniature work of art that anyone can enjoy.

        Additional D printmakers who have already been featured include:

[Pictures: The Cactus, wood block print by Benvenuto Disertori, 1920s;
Il Giardino Chiuso (The Enclosed Garden, ex libris for U. Salvi) woodcut by Disertori, 1923 (Image from Mattia Jona).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter D

March 27, 2017

Block Printmaker Cook

        There’s a definite Art Deco feel to the work of Howard Norton Cook (USA, 1901-1980).  Check out the smooth geometry, dramatic lighting, and swooping perspectives of these pieces.  They even represent Art Deco’s twin attractions to the glamour of ancient empires and the sleek power of modernism.
        These are wood engravings, carved with very fine, precise lines rather than rough gouges, and the careful crosshatching and variety of textures of the miniature fields is particularly impressive.  I love the punches of pure white on the airplane and roads, but I also love how the darkness of the pueblo, with no white at all, evokes moonlight.  I don’t know whether the dark paper was always this dark - whether Cook chose a dark beige paper, or whether it’s darkened with age.  In any case, I think it looks good this way.

        See more C artists with these links:

[Pictures: Airplane, wood engraving by Howard Norton Cook, 1931;
Taos Pueblo, Moonlight, wood engraving by Cook, 1927 (Images from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter C

March 24, 2017

Block Printmaker Brown

        This little wood block print is one of the pieces in my own collection.  I bought it from a small gallery in New Hampshire about twenty years ago and really love its quiet simplicity.  The artist, Matt Brown, works primarily in the Japanese hanga method making multi-block color wood block prints, so this black and white piece is fairly unusual for him.  Just a lucky break for me that he decided to make something so perfect for my taste!
        Of course, his color wood block prints are lovely, too, mostly landscapes of mountains and ocean.  Here’s one of my favorites, with lots of monochromatic, low-contrast colors.  If you’re going to go with color, may as well make it something that black and white can’t do!

        And here’s the digest of other B printmakers I’ve featured:
[Pictures: House @Isleford, woodblock print by Matt Brown, before 1996;
Moon over Mt. Desert Island, 2nd State, color woodblock print by Brown (Image from Matt Brown Woodblock Prints).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter B

March 22, 2017

Block Printmaker Abbe

        Elfriede Abbe (USA, 1919-2012) was a sculptor as well as a printmaker.  She also printed entire books on her printing press.  She observed, “Cutting designs directly in a wood block seems to lend itself to a sense of affinity with objects of nature, landscape, and countryside.”
        Here are two pieces by Abbe, I assume from an entire series on the days of creation.  The Fifth Day, with creatures of the seas and air, is especially interesting.  Most obviously it’s unusual for being printed on marbled paper.  This is an artist’s proof, so I don’t know whether Abbe made her entire edition on this paper, or was just experimenting.  I’m sure she was thinking the watery paper might go well with the watery image.  I think it’s cool, but distracts a bit from the details, which are quite interesting, too.  For example, look how the ray overlaps the fish, jellyfish, squid, and other things around it.  There’s a lot of movement in the composition, as compared with the land animals, which are much more static.

       In addition to Abbe, I’ve featured plenty of other A printmakers in the past.  Follow these links to see:

[Pictures: Genesis I.21, block print by Elfriede Abbe (Image from Flickr);
Sixth Day, block print by Abbe (Image from Flickr).]

A-Z Challenge, all posts for the letter A

March 20, 2017

A-Z Challenge - Theme Reveal

        You know how much I like alphabets, so when I heard about the A-Z Blog Challenge, I figured it was just the thing for me.  The idea is that every blog that participates picks a theme and then spends the month of April doing a post on the theme for every letter of the alphabet.  Although April is the official A-Z Challenge month, today is the official day to reveal one’s theme.  I already did a fantasy alphabet theme, so this time… drum roll… I will share a relief block print artist for each letter of the alphabet.  I’ve got some artists I’ve never featured before, and I plan to link to artists I’ve already mentioned, so I’m hoping this will end up creating a great index of block print artists.
        In addition, it will be fun to see what themes other bloggers do, because there’s the social aspect of everyone doing this together, and linking into the same list.  (The list of participating blogs is all the comments below the A to Z Challenge site's post of the day.)  Unlike the last alphabetical series, which was just me, this series will be part of a whole big April Alphabet party.
        Okay, but being the rebel that I am, I’ve devised a system that I think will work better for me, and be more consistent with the way this blog is usually formatted.  Instead of 6 posts a week for the month of April, I will do 3 posts a week, and I’ll start early and run late.  So tune in on Wednesday to find out what A artist will kick us off…

March 17, 2017

A Bit of Hope

        Maria Popova of the blog Brain Pickings says that “Critical thinking without hope is cynicism.  Hope without critical thinking is naïveté.”  We need them both, of course, and strangely, they both seem in awfully short supply sometimes.  In the world of fiction writing, however, the balance often seems to fall away from hope, with anything that isn’t 100% cynical being labelled as too naively happy.  Happiness and hope are often accused of being unrealistic.  In 1969 E.B. White laid out the role of the writer with comments that seems absolutely spot-on for 2017.  He says,
        A writer must reflect and interpret his society, his world; he must also provide inspiration and guidance and challenge. Much writing today strikes me as deprecating, destructive, and angry. There are good reasons for anger, and I have nothing against anger. But I think some writers have lost their sense of proportion, their sense of humor, and their sense of appreciation. I am often mad, but I would hate to be nothing but mad: and I think I would lose what little value I may have as a writer if I were to refuse, as a matter of principle, to accept the warming rays of the sun, and to report them, whenever, and if ever, they happen to strike me.
        I’ve written about this before, particularly in my post on Happy Endings, where I point out that newspapers are full of bad news not because bad news is more “realistic,” but because newspapers operate under the belief that a problem generates more sales than its solution and sudden disaster generates more sales than the slow process of overcoming disaster.  As a writer I believe that I have a job to do in accepting and reporting the warming rays of the sun whenever they strike me, not mindlessly or naively, but in an effort to serve up ample helpings of both critical thinking and hope.
        Maria Popova concludes beautifully,  Yes, people sometimes do horrible things, and we can speculate about why they do them until we run out of words and sanity. But evil only prevails when we mistake it for the norm. There is so much goodness in the world — all we have to do is remind one another of it, show up for it, and refuse to leave.

[Picture: O What A Beautiful City, wood block print from Walk Together Children: Black American Spirituals by Ashley Bryan, Atheneum, 1974.]
Quotations from The Paris Review Interviews, vol. IV, and Brain Pickings, where you can read Popova’s whole article “Hope, Cynicism, and the Stories We Tell Ourselves.”

March 14, 2017

Hunker Down

        Snow Day!  And here’s a fun wood engraving to celebrate.  Actually, the snow’s not all that deep here yet, but we’re supposed to get over a foot.  That’s nothing compared to this Arctic scene, but plenty for mid-March, in my opinion.  Artist Rick Allen points out that “getting snowed in can really encourage good stories and good story telling,” a sentiment near and dear to my heart.  We’ll also probably indulge in some board games today, and perhaps a movie, as well.  In the meantime, enjoy the cute details in this piece: the bear snuggling around the stove listening to the stories (which are quite scary or shocking, judging by his reaction), and the moose’s antlers blowing right off!

[Picture: Hunker Down, wood engraving by Rick Allen (Image from his web site Kenspeckle Letterpress).]

March 10, 2017

Fossils in Rubber

        Here’s the most recent piece I just printed, although once again I had mostly carved it last year.  I did a test print at the time but thought it had too much black, and the white didn’t pop strongly enough.  So I carved out more, including just about doubling the number of feathery lines on each frond, but I didn’t get around to printing again until now.
        In case you’re wondering, these are crinoids, or at least they’re an artistic impression of crinoids.  Crinoids with stalks are also known as sea lilies, for obvious reasons.  My piece is inspired by a large fossil slab I saw at the Harvard Museum of Natural History, followed by looking at photos of lots of other crinoid fossils.  My crinoids aren’t meant to be a scientifically accurate representation of any particular species, however.  I was inspired by the shapes and patterns of a variety of crinoid fossils, as you can see in the various ways I’ve depicted the stems.  These guys have been around in a wide and magnificent variety of forms for about 500 million years, so they must be doing something right.  I think they’re pretty cool.

[Picture: Fossils, rubber block print by AEGN, 2017.]

March 7, 2017

Here's Something Cool: Computer Bugs

        Check out these cool insects made from old circuit boards and other computer bits.  In common with so many of the other more steampunky sculptures that I like, they are a way of salvaging trash, turning something discarded into something beautiful, and commenting on just how much we throw away and waste.  The built-in obsolescence of electronics makes it even more of an issue with these components.  Still, these are mostly wonderful for their own sake.  And resistors make such perfect insect legs!

        Julie Alice Chappell (UK) scavenges bits and pieces from computers, video game systems, DVD players, and other electronic devices.  I’ve been known to save circuit boards and other bits and pieces, too, just because they’re so visually appealing.  I have yet to turn them into anything beautiful, though.
        I’m not sure how the wings get transparent.  Do they come that way, in a sort of circuit board I haven’t yet seen?  Or does Chappell do something to them?  Either way, the filigree of circuitry translates wonderfully into insect wings, and Chappell does a great job matching other components to other insectoid body parts.  I find the head of the top dragonfly particularly wonderful.
        Some of her insects are fairly straightforward impressions of real species, but others are much more fantastical.  I love that the second dragonfly has three sets of wings and two sets of antennae.  The last example here has its own odd proportions in the placement of wings and antennae that add to its charm.  I find these very appealing, and hope you enjoy them, too.

[Pictures: Computer Component Bugs, sculptures by Julie Alice Chappell, c 2015;
The Silvery Dragonfly, sculpture by Chappell;
The Elegant, Triple Winged “Through the Looking Glass” Samsung Insect, sculpture by Chappell, 2017;
Computer Component Bug, sculpture by Chappell, c 2015, (Images from This Is Colossal, My Modern Met, and Chappell’s Etsy Shop DewLeaf).]

March 3, 2017

Chittaprosad's Alpona

        Chittaprosad Bhattacharya (India, 1915-1978) chose not to use his surname because of his rejection of the caste system in India.  He was a radical leftist political artist who used art to raise awareness of social issues, and used printmaking as propaganda for the masses.  In places where literacy is low and multiple languages are spoken, art is particularly effective at spreading ideas.  As I’ve mentioned before, angry propaganda is not appealing to me, but later in his life Chittaprosad became increasingly interested in movements to promote peace and aid children, and these are topics that certainly resonate much more with me.  I can’t find dates for any of the pieces I’m sharing today - work intended for mass distribution is seldom signed or dated - but judging from the subject matter, I’m guessing these are all later works.
        The first one is called “Alpona,” which is the traditional drawing of designs on the ground during special occasions.  You can see the woman drawing her design with sand or rice paste from her bowl, as other women and children look on.  It seems to me, however, that there’s a hint of a double meaning here, with the beautiful wealth of designs Chittaprosad uses in his wood block prints.  Like relief printmaking, alpona (or alpana) is most often done in white on a dark background, and like the patterns Chittaprosad clearly revels in, it can represent auspicious elements or be purely abstract.
        The mother and children in the second piece are quite stylized in a style very similar to the first.  They look more like archetypes than a portrait of specific people, and the piece includes several symbols, too, such as a dove, a flower, a sheaf of rice, and the boy playing a flute.  Once again I really like the patterns of the saris, the boldness of the carving, and the almost cuneiform look of the grass.
        I’ve chosen this third piece because it’s a little different, a wide landscape with more of a look of a specific place.  I especially like the water buffalo, of course, but there are lots of little details in the background, including tiny flying birds.  Almost all Chittaprosad’s prints seem to include birds!  There are children here again, too, and like the other pieces I’ve chosen it gives an impression of peace and sufficiency.  May all the world’s children enjoy these things!

[Pictures: Alpona, wood block print by Chittaprosad;
Mother and Children, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Images from Art alinda);
Untitled, wood block print by Chittaprosad (Image from Saffron Art).]