September 9, 2020

Abstract Prints by Drewes

        In the last post I shared a number of figurative wood block prints by Werner Drewes  (1899-1985, Germany/USA).  They were of a range of levels of realism, but all had recognizable subjects.  Today I’ll share a number of wholly abstract pieces by Drewes, because he is somewhat unusual in working extensively with both modes of expression, holding his own in the face of art-world fads.  What’s also somewhat unusual is that I really like a lot of his abstract stuff!
        To continue with the transition from representation to abstraction, the first piece today is called Islands, and it is definitely identifiable as such when you know what you’re supposed to be looking at.  I just love the colors, and I think the faceted shapes wonderfully capture the scintillation of sun on waves.
        The next two pieces also have titles that reveal Drewes’s real-world inspirations and give the viewer a hint about what’s being expressed.  However, they both are just one little step more abstract because I don’t think you’d guess the subjects just from looking at the pieces.  Want to try?  When you’ve made your guesses, you can check on the titles in the information at the end of the post.  So, did you know?  But even if you didn’t guess correctly, now that you know, look at the pieces again: the violent colors and sharp, stinging shapes of the purple one, and the warm, bright sparkles of the yellow one.  Now that you know what to look for, you can really see what Drewes was getting at, can’t you?
        I think all three of these color woodcuts have five colors each, and were carved and printed with five separate blocks each.
        Drewes also made abstract pieces with titles based on abstract concepts rather than tangible objects.  I didn’t pick any that were exactly that, but this next piece is entitled Intrusion, and clearly is more about capturing a feeling than just a purely physical description.  It’s an interesting balance of precise geometry and rough carving.

        The next piece is one of 10 prints from the portfolio It Can’t Happen Here, which Drewes made in 1934, after he had emigrated to the USA, fleeing from the rise of Nazism in Germany.  Although the individual pieces in the portfolio have purely abstract titles (Composition X), the overarching title leads me to see the predominant dark areas as oppressive and the sharp darts and angles as threatening.  It’s a title that I find particularly haunting in our present political climate.
        As the final piece today I share Dynamic Yellow, a title which gives the viewer no context, emotional cues, or message about how to interpret what they see.  This is pure abstraction, in which the only subject of the piece is itself, its own shapes and colors and composition.  I find it surprisingly pleasing, as I would have predicted that I wouldn’t care for the color combination or the primarily rectangular shapes.  It appears to use 8 inks, probably with 8 blocks.  I would love to see how Drewes came up with this composition, since wood block prints can’t be done as spontaneously as paintings, with modifications and going-with-the-flow changes.  (Though it is possible, of course, that he designed it first in painting, and then translated to printmaking.  That’s somewhat how I made my piece Dancing, which I think I’ll post about soon.)  How does this one make you feel?  How do you respond to it?

[Pictures: Islands, color woodcut by Werner Drewes, before 1971;
Scorpion, color woodcut by Drewes, 1946;
Summer Garden, color woodcut by Drewes, before 1969;
Intrusion, woodcut by Drewes, 1974;
Composition X - Dynamic Rhythm, woodcut by Drewes, 1934;
Dynamic Yellow, color woodcut by Drewes, 1982, (All pieces from Smithsonian American Art Museum).]

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