Sunday, June 30, 2013

"Rudd" by John Lawrence

I recently discovered the work of illustrator John Lawrence. I was perusing the children's section and discovered the delightful title This Little Chick, aimed at very young children. The images seemed old fashioned, and so I checked the publication date and when I saw the year 2001 I knew I'd found yet another illustrator who enjoys putting old fashioned techniques and styles in relief printmaking to new uses. Lawrence is briefly mentioned in Children's Picturebooks: The Art of Visual Storytelling by Martin Salisbury and Morag Styles, and there I read that the artist makes relief prints by engraving vinyl floor tiles and then uses those prints to make color collages. The collage part would explain the playful use of color in both This Little Chick and another children's title illustrated by Lawrence: Tiny's Big Adventure (written by Martin Waddell.) The overall composition of Lawrence's images are masterfully put together, and yet it is the complexity of the busy details that really keeps me looking deeper and longer at the work.

Doing further exploration online, I found some of Lawrence's black and white wood engravings, and that is what I present here. This is an illustration from the book Fish Calendar. What I noticed first in this and other images from that book was the separation of the fish from the fishers by scale, perspective, and composition. The fish are larger and dominate the center/bottom of the image, while the fisher is small and far away. The viewer ends up having a more intimate experience examining the varied and almost decorative details of the fish, while the person is obscured by clothing including a hat and his movement away from the viewer. Indeed, the busy textures everywhere distract from the human presence. The highlights of leaves on trees are speckles of light. Weeds of all kinds burst out from the water's edge. The water itself flows in an array of descriptive, parallel lines. But back to the fish. They are front and center and even framed by a magnifying glass. They are the small made large. My eyes mostly stay within the border of the circle, yet never stop darting around within it, for the specks and spikes and swirls and scratches demand movement. It is odd that these fish, who seem so still and probably dead, are made up of and surrounded by so much suggested animation. This is what I love about Lawrence's work. The line details are just as, if not more lively than the big picture. They create a fascinating microcosmos. And I feel there is some greater truth in that; truth in the idea that after the giant falls, the vast symphony of the world continues on without missing a beat.

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