September 4, 2020

Figurative Prints by Drewes

        Werner Drewes (1899-1985, Germany/USA) was a prolific artist who worked in many media, including several different types of printmaking.  According to Wikipedia, he produced 418 woodcuts during his life.  He did both figurative and abstract works, and I found so many I wanted to share that I’ve decided to do two posts sharing his work.  The first will feature his representational wood block prints.
        Drewes studied at the Bauhaus in its early, experimental years, where his teachers included Lyonel Feininger, Wassily Kandinsky, and Paul Klee, all of whose influence is clearly visible in some of his work.  He was also one of the first pivotal artists to bring Bauhaus style
to the American art world.  In some ways I wonder whether he wouldn’t be more famous in his own right if he had been less versatile.  The range of his work is downright chameleonic, which I find absolutely marvelous, but it does mean that he doesn’t have such an identifiably distinctive style of his own to point to.  Not that he lacked success in his own lifetime; he seems to have done very satisfactorily both financially and critically.  He also had a long career as a teacher (during which he modelled his teaching style on that of Kandinsky.)
        Of course, by picking my favorites to share with you, I have necessarily culled out some breadth of variety.  Nevertheless, you can see that he does both black and white and color, both fairly realistic to fairly abstract (and you’ll see the even more abstract stuff in the next post).  The locust is possibly the least typical of his works I’m sharing, but I just loved it too much to leave it out.  The storm cloud over the Southwest is also a little more
starkly angular than is typical, but shows off well Drewes’s wonderful sense of color.  It looks like he used three blocks: orange for the mesas, plum that somehow works for both rocks and clouds, and the background, which has an ombre that shades from yellow to grey, changing the character of the colors on top.
        Next up are two early works.  The waves are more controlled and stark, while the forest brook is more expressionistic in its rougher carving and less even inking.  However, they both demonstrate the quality that I think is so appealing in Drewes’s work: the ability to imbue his pieces with a warmth of emotion regardless of style or technique.
        Contrast those two earlier scenes with one from fifty years later.  This pond is certainly
more detailed, but he’s still got that expressionistic roughness to his carving.  However, I think the roughness is deceptive because he’s absolutely masterful in the way his gouges do exactly what they need to do, black against white, white against black, both against textured backgrounds, so that you see not only trees, hills and sky, but details of reflections and ferns, dark and light.

        Next are two landscapes from the early 70’s (an era of printmaking about which I don’t usually have much to say).  These both make really fun use of layered inks, geometry, and pushing that line of representation versus abstraction.  The forest on top looks a little more random in its streaks and tailings of carving, while the Greek island below looks a bit more planned and controlled.  The layering of white ink is particularly interesting in giving some texture to the otherwise flat planes.  It looks as if Drewes printed with black and then printed the same block with white almost directly on top, but just enough offset to give those little shadows to create depth.  Both these pieces have wonderful colors.
        Finally, for a little bit of variety, people.  These women are not very detailed, and look as solid and worn as the architecture.  They have probably worked as long and hard at their jobs as Drewes did at his — and there’s even the suggestion that they may be having some fun with it, as Drewes clearly did, too.
        Tune in next time for the Abstract Prints of Werner Drewes.
[Pictures:  Locust (no.205), woodcut by Werner Drewes, before 1968;
Storm Cloud, color woodcut by Drewes, 1977;
Rock in the Surf, woodcut by Drewes, 1921;
The Little Brook, woodcut by Drewes, 1930;
The Beaverpond, woodcut by Drewes, 1980;
Sunlit Forest (Autumn Forest), color woodcut by Drewes, before 1971;
Mykonos I, color woodcut by Drewes, 1974;
Housecleaning (no. 259), woodcut by Drewes 1966
(All images from Smithsonian American Art Museum).]

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