Thursday, July 31, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Plastic Boat"

3 layer reduction woodcut. Image is 8" x 10", oil-based inks on white, sulphite block printing paper. 

"I remember as a kid  having a balloon and accidentally letting the string go and watching it just float off and into the sky until it disappeared. And there's something about that, even that feels very much like what life is, you know, that it's fleeting, and it's temporal." 

-Pete Docter 

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Rubber Duck"

4 layer reduction woodcut. Image is 8" x 10", oil-based inks on white, sulphite block printing paper. 

"Weather means more when you have a garden. There's nothing like listening to a shower and thinking how it is soaking in around your green beans." 

- Marcelene Cox 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Woman Washing Her Hair" by Goyo

Her feet and legs cast no shadow on the floor where she kneels to rinse her hair. Hair that pours down from her clutched hand, into a small bowl. These are the moments we never think about, though they happen over and over again as part of daily routine. Is she milky white or translucent? Warm and solid like a cat sleeping beside its owner, or a phantom, fading like mist in sunrise? 

Incidentally, the very first post I made to this blog was in response to another of Goyo's bathing women. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Life Preserver"

6 layer reduction woodcut. Image is 8" x 10", oil-based inks on white, sulphite block printing paper.

This is sort of where my Toying Around series and prints of babies/toddlers come together. The image was inspired by watching my two year old play in the bath. When I sit in the tub with her, especially when she play-acts with all her little rubber ducks and plastic fish, I feel like a sleeping giant, my belly like an island rising up from a great body of water. I think I might like to do a small series continuing to explore these ideas and impressions.

Friday, July 25, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Manao Tupapau" (Watched by the Spirits of the Dead) by Paul Gauguin

There was a moment when it all made sense. The shadows spoke, and in that instant I knew that rocks were trees, mountains were blossoms, and all the clawing away at the light we can do will not stop the river from winding into the sea.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

NAKED JULY: Four Versions of Edvard Munch's "Man Bathing"

Here are four versions I found of the same woodcut by Munch. First I tried to put them in order from my favorite to least favorite, but I kept changing my mind and eventually came to the conclusion that each one has aspects I find uniquely captivating, but none captivates me the most in an overall sense.

Looking at these variations has reminded me why I rarely do different color versions from the same block. I look at one of these images and see aspects I enjoy and which evoke a particular response. But then I look at another and see different aspects I enjoy but in a different way. Looking at them all together, comparing and contrasting, I start to lose my sense of how each individual print struck me when I first lay eyes on it.

When there is only one, it is easy to pretend that it is pristine and brilliant in conception and execution. That it could only ever say what it is saying right now. That the muse has inspired some Very Important Message. Variations on a theme expose the artist as more of a seeker than a prophet. They display the versatility of the composition, and inevitably also its limitations (and by extension, the artist's mere mortal status.)

To put it more briefly, I avoid doing variations from the same block because I'm a coward.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

NAKED JULY: "The Bath" by Felix Vollotton

She pulls herself up slowly, almost lost in the swoop of the tub's edge. The inky-black basin against the receding checkerboard floor is a vortex. The warm water sloshes, beckoning her to sink back down. A hand, arm, elbow resist. A silent attendant awaits with a towel. She is the temple pillar, holding the entire composition upright. The faucet is a pair of robins with droopy beaks, perched floating in the void and gawking. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Woman & World" by Dina Cormick

Though it spins and hurls swiftly through space in its orbit around the sun, sometimes the world seems stationary and crushingly heavy like a boulder. Times like these, it more resembles Jupiter than Earth. 

Though it is mostly covered with water, sometimes the world seems red hot, as if on fire. Times like these, I perceive it as crimson-colored, somewhat like Mars, but more like blood. 

Dina Cormick is a feminist artist who grew up in Zambia and has lived her adult life in South Africa. She creates highly accessible, emotionally expressive works that address issues of social justice. Learn more about Cormick and her work on her website.

Friday, July 18, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Raven Feast" by Dale de Armond

Young women gather
Wearing decorations 
Offering branches
Bearing their 
Firm, round breasts 
Over amble bellies 
Turning to show off 
Flowing hair
Graceful shoulders 
Robust hips
They smile 
Their adoring eyes
Fixed on your face 

I first wrote about Inuit artist Dale de Armond's work in 2011 with Raven Made Womana post where I included some information and links about the artist. I then wrote about a second Dale de Armond work, Lake Spirit, in 2012. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

NAKED JULY: "The Star" by Mats Olsson

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Mats Olsson creates sublime drawings and prints of heavy-set, male nudes. On his online store Ponderous Man's Profile he says he doesn't know why he chooses the imagery he chooses. I say who needs an explanation from the artist when the work speaks so well for itself?

That said, I'll take a crack at interpretation. After all, this blog is called Words on Woodcuts. 

This image immediately struck me because the position of the man's body makes it seem as if he has just crash landed in an uncomfortable position, and yet he is positioned on a puffy cloud and the closed-eyes expression on his face is serene. The absence of any shadow under his form contributes to the impression that he is floating or falling. The blue objects to the sides of the cloud remind me of pouring water, translucent curtains, and flower petals, all wonderful to touch. The combination of vivid yellow and blue add to the sense of a lighter mood. I am reminded of the paintings of Marc Chagall, who used impossibly upside-down heads and vibrant colors to convey different psychological states, such as joy, awe, or falling in love.

This image is intended to illustrate the Tarot card The Star, which is most typically illustrated with a naked woman pouring two jugs of water while a star shines in the sky above her. Variations, including those which feature a male figure, have appeared in some artist's designs. The meaning of the card falls into the range of hope, promise, assurance, and renewal.

I feel this man's life has just been turned topsy turvy. He is in a new and unfamiliar place, naked, stripped of all he owns. Because he is obviously middle-aged, this image serves as a reminder: profound new beginnings can start at any age. And while such tumultuous change can be difficult, it is also liberating.

Monday, July 14, 2014

NAKED JULY: Male Nudes by Rockwell Kent

Here are five 1930's wood engravings by Rockwell Kent, from top to bottom: Greenland Swimmer, Fair Wind, Bowspirit, Bather, and Hail and Farewell.

Though the images are are not explicitely sexual, I was immediately struck by their sensual, erotic qualities. Each man's body is muscular, unblemished, and ideally proportioned, yet also appears soft to the touch. The "swimmer" is not swimming, but leans to firmly grip a paddle. The "bather" is not bathing, but strikes a flirtatious, seated pose. Two of the figures balance with a ship's spar between their legs, bobbing over gently churning waters.

That they are not explicit or aggressive in their sexual provacation strikes me as even more titilating because the men seem secretive and coy.

The last of these wood etchings appeared in the 1995 exhibition Male Desire: Homoerotic Images in 20th-Century American Art. The show was organized by art historian Jonathan Weinberg, who:

"...proposes that the sexualized image of the male body has carried different meanings in different eras and that homosexual content is by no means always conscious. By mixing homosexual and heterosexual artists in the show (as the exhibition 'In a Different Light' did recently in San Francisco), he suggests that esthetic fashion and political beliefs can play as important a role as sexual orientation in creating 'homoerotic' images."

Even though the style of these figures is indeed emblematic of the period, part of me still finds it difficult to believe that Rockwell Kent, in his inspiration and creation of them, felt no sexual attraction to the male form.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Nude At Bath" by Walter Zeising

She glances back at the basin, her hand placed firmly on a pile of linens, weight shifting back to her heels, and savors another few moments of cleansing.

I found this gem on Harris Schrank Fine Arts which included the blurb:
"Much of Zeising’s work consisted of complex city scenes, often etching, in black and white, so this woodcut is a bit of a departure for him."

Indeed, on further inspection I was able to find many beautiful etchings of city scenes, but nothing else at all like this. I'm a sucker for skillfull contour drawings of nudes that are able to so effectively describe the weight and curves of a specific body with such economy of line. I'm captivated by the subtle contrast between of blue against yellow and orange, and the way her pale complexion leads into the soft linens, leading the eye into the foreground, then skipping over to the basin and up to perhaps a mirror or window. But more than anything, I'm wondering why she looked back and what she's thinking.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Bird Catching" by Natalia Moroz

Image posted with the permission of the artist. You can find out more about Natalia Moroz and her work on her website. You can also purchase her linocuts as well as her husband's designer jewelry on their online store WingedLion.

At first it seemed the couple was huddled together for security, surrounded by circling fowl. But on closer inspection it seems clear the pair have drawn the birds to this pebbled, windy beach, like a pied piper. Their arms and hands form shadow puppets, using visual deception to attract the flyers in the same way that bird calls use sound.

He is a beautiful, young man, and I am reminded of ancient Greek statues in which female bodies are modestly draped in nondescript gowns, while the youthful, hairless male bodies stand naked in all their perfectly proportioned glory.

Everything moves, but in balance, like a yin yang symbol; feminine and masculine, shadow and light, bound and free.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Looker" by Wendy Willis

Image posted with the permission of the artist. Wendy Willis maintains a frequently updated blog found here.

I wrote about two other linocuts of women in water by Willis last year. I'm happy to revisit the subject as well as the subtle mysteriousness I find in her imagery.

The depiction of both moving water and naked bodies in color relief print is an interesting challenge. The picture plane is essentially broken into a mosaic of lyrical shapes. Cracks, globs, and wiggly slits describe a voluptuous body immersed in water, distorted by refraction. The water seems like something alive itself, or at least populated by living beings, some of which scatter and others which eagerly swim up to investigate a large and warm body passing through their territory.

I'm not sure what to make of the windows. They strike me as decorative, antiquated, and far off, almost like drawings displayed in a museum or illustrations found in a book about art or architectural design. It is a stark juxtaposition; such still and specific, unusable windows, beside an anonymous woman, so full of life, swiftly swimming, naked and unencumbered.

Willis created this print for the Naughty, Taboo, Just Plain Wrong print exchange, which makes me smile. When I first saw this image I thought of the swimmer as enjoying a peaceful swim in solitude. I figured she is naked because she enjoys the feel of it or forgot her bathing suit, opposed to anything risqué. I think skinny dipping falls more into the category of naughty than taboo or just plain wrong. Everything about this scene feels right to me!

On her blog, Willis writes:
 I've named the print, Looker,  meant to reflect not just the beauty of the swimmer but also about how your view of nudity can depend on where you stand, through which window you see it.

One of the gifts of art appreciation is that it cultivates a more discerning eye, a way of seeing that uncovers endless layers and types of beauty by which to be enthralled. Such vision yields a sense of wonder and fulfillment that costs the beholder nothing. Beauty is everywhere if we can only recognize it.

Monday, July 7, 2014

NAKED JULY: Nude by Flora Schofield

This is a classic example of white line woodcut that was developed in America starting in 1915 in Provincetown, Massachusetts. The style is also pretty emblematic of the lyrical, yet blockish realism of the 1930's.

Pink, blue, and green flesh
Mix, float, and stream, contained
In borders of white

Sunday, July 6, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Masked Nude No. 1" by Roger Walkup

Image posted with the permission of the artist. More of Roger Walkup's prints can be found at his website and for sale online here.

I could have done a post on Roger Walkup's whole series of female nudes (which can be viewed on his website's gallery.) But the mysteriousness of this piece especially spoke to me.

The torch is lit, blue flames licking base, red climbing the walls. Red reflected in her face, the mask. Eyes recede, mouth opens, large, round teeth revealed. She has unfastened the halter top of her dark dress. Light from the fire illuminates her fair skin. Her breasts hang free, open and inviting. 

The idea of the woman undressing, revealing her nakedness to someone, yet keeping her entire head covered is compelling and can lead in different directions, some exciting, some dangerous, some sad.

Anonymity in a sexual encounter is certainly titillating. In a mask, we can be seen how we want to be seen in, at least for a short while. This is why one common role play among couples is to pretend to be strangers picking each other up; not only are we aroused, but the ego is satisfied.

Sometimes the mask more truly describes the subjective, psychological state of a person. Here, perhaps the it expresses an immediate and primordial, sexual experience.

There is also potential tragedy in this masked image. The quiet sadness of the true self being hidden, isolated and unknown. When my mind drifts in that direction, this image reminds me of the Shel Silverstein poem Masks. 

All of Walkup's woodcuts have those sort of raw, primitive qualities of German Expressionism. Facial expressions are loaded with meaning - an intense glare or aroused smile. In his female nudes, women appear comfortable and confident in their own skins. The feminine form is emphasized by fleshy, weighty breasts, bellies, butts, and thighs. Accurate proportions are exchanged for emotional impact. When Walkup uses color, it is just as harsh and demanding of the viewer's attention as the dramatic linework and play between light and dark.

As a bonus, I feel a personal connection to this work because, like me, Walkup hand prints small editions using a wooden spoon. Like me, he regards each individual print as its own unique work of art. On his website he writes:

I love the smell of wood and the sculptural nature of carving a woodblock. I also love the fact that, although each image within an edition is quite similar, each image is unique since I can never apply ink to the block in exactly the same way or transfer the ink from the block to the paper in the exact same way. 

It is always comforting to find fellow primitives in this high tech age.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

NAKED JULY: "Elizabeth and Rod" by Mike Lyon
 All this July I'm featuring nudes on this blog, mostly because I'm working on some nudes in the studio and I want to look more deeply at how a diverse mix of other woodcut printmakers have tackled the timeless task of depicting the unclothed human figure.

She stands on the pedestal casually combing her hair, not looking at the audience, though she must be aware. She must realize that countless pairs of eyes are following the contours of her youthful curves, admiring her lovely face.

He stands behind her in shadow, confronting onlookers with his gaze, his hands behind his head so as to emphasize his confidence, impressive height, and powerful girth.

Mike Lyon's work is an interesting mix of humanistic subjects, historical references, and unconventional techniques that employ a high degree of math and technology.

Portraits and figures which possess profound emotional impact populate Lyon's portfolio. This woodcut depicts Lyon's long-time friend Rod and Rod's girlfriend Elizabeth. On his blog about it, Lyon writes:

This one parodies 19th century sumo images which occasionally depicted sumo in the company of beautiful women. 

In his blog post 1996 woodcuts Lyon wrote that at that time he became "fascinated by Japanese woodblock printmaking technique." That same year he enrolled in a two-week intensive workshop taught by Hiroke Morinoue. In his post The Fisherman and his Wife Lyon calls the workshop a "life changing experience." Indeed, the heavy influence of Japanese techniques are evident in the work which followed.

Elizabeth and Rod is one of Lyon's many aizuri-e or blue printed pictures, a convention also in accordance with traditional Japanese woodblock prints. Lyon's first attempt at an aizuri-e was in 2002.

What most surprised me about Elizabeth and Rod is that it was created using 24 wood blocks which were carved by a machine. The machine was first obtained and written about on Lyon's 2004 post Max, where he mentions a "new carving 'assistant'!" It turns out to be a CNC (computer numerical control) machine which he purchased from ShopBot Tools, a company which mostly sells them to sign makers.

Previous to obtaining the CNC machine, Lyon used reduction techniques in order to get so many layers of color. However, reduction is a Western, not Japanese, technique, and it seems to me from the post Sarah Reclining that this diversion from Japanese techniques perhaps stood out in a way that felt unsatisfactory for the artist:

This print is a reduction woodcut, carved and printed entirely by hand using traditional Japanese woodblock printing techniques and materials (except, of course, for the reduction part).

Lyon's use of the CNC machine strikes me as a modern incarnation of the old Japanese woodblock printmaking technique. Not only because the machine allows Lyons to use more blocks, but because the great masters of Japanese printmaking typically didn't do their own carving or even their own printing. More often they employed specially-trained craftspeople for each of those specific jobs.

Gazing at this formal-yet-fleshy image of Elizabeth and Rod I imagine that I can hear the far-off buzz of a chainsaw. Maybe it is a sentimental lumberjack carving the image of a mermaid out of a stump. I look at Elizabeth's fair skin and contemplate the fragility of a rose pedal. I blink and am reminded of the fleeting nature of any moment that happens to be captured in a camera's eye-view.