Wednesday, February 13, 2013

     I have been a printmaker since 1970. I first discovered wood engraving in 1973, when i found a copy of Lynd Wards's Gods' Man and much later other works by this fine narrative artist. Gods' Man  is a novel without words; it is cut in an artistic style that was approachable to some one with a printmaking background. It is at this point that  I entered the world of wood engraving.  At times it is a self-centered art community with a history that has been influenced by other art movements but has kept to itself in a number of ways.  My early wood engeraving was very figurative and influenced by Lynd Ward and Kathe Kolowitz especially in regard to the political, radical subject matter.  At this point  I stopped doing art for personal reasons. except for a few years in the late seventies. About eight years ago (1992) with the helop of one of my sons I reentered the art world.  At this time I stared to do watercolors. It is a very difficult medium to do well especially if you don't do the typical subject matter of water colors.  About the same time I found a book on printmaking written by Ross, with modern verison of Albrect Durer's Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse a print I have always been fond of.  I was in love with Eichenberg version of this print but I had forgotten that I owned a copy of it many years before.  It could be said that there is a connection between my work and Albrect  Durer's that goes back to my early undergraduate days when I came across Eichenberg's modern interpretation of the Four Horsemen. It was at this point that I again picked up a burin and engraved a piece of end grain maple.  You can engrave and print a completed wood engraving with a very limited amount of equipment.  A few engraving tools, a end grain maple block, a brayer, ink slab and a wooden spoon are all that you really need.  At this point that was all that I had.

I am a self-taught engraver & formschnider, I would study the book illustrations that wood engraving is know for.  The modern artist' engraving was much more approachable than the commerical engraving of the 19th century.  At first I was studying Lynd Ward and Fritz Eichenberg among others.  After I felt sure of my craft I wanted study the commerical engravers such as Tim Cole.  Most wood engraving is done in a traditional manner; even artist who approach it in a different manner such as Misch Kohn are still controlled by the traditional technique to a degree.Most wood engraving is done in black and white. I wanted to print some of mine in color. I then asked myself how to go about it? Any of the methods used in relief printmaking would work but some of them have their own drawbacks. I  found I could use the the color reduction method to print a photo in a realist manner.  I was at this point that I fell into the book arts world throught the M.C.B.A.  They were astounded that I was from Chicago and did not know of the Chicago Center for Book and Paper.  Currentl I am interested in abstract and reproductive printmakers both current ones and those from the beginning of western printmaking. Many artist from Albrect Durer to Rosenberg are influences upon the style of my work.  My work is becoming a little more abstract with details from printmaking'sfigurative past thrown into the mix. Some of these  figurative details are of a auto biographical nature.

The most important thing for the introduction of printmaking and printing in general in Europe was the introduction of papermaking  Both block printing, which was used in printing textiles, and metal engraving which was used in the decoration  of armor and by jeweleres were widely practiced art forms.  Note A. Durer's father was a goldsmith.  For example it was known to put ink into engraved lines on the armor and then rub it to preserve it for the next customer.

What is the role of printmaking in history and the present?

My craft had its beginnings with the block books, which were printed in the first half of the 15th century.  The first important early block books were the Biblia Pauperum or the preachers's Bible and the Speculum.  These are good examples of the early Book and they are the beginning of a type of work that leads to my art in the present. The two examples from my work in the block book format are the Passover Hagaddot  & the Book of Esther  that i did after my MFA degree.  With The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse Durer tied to turn the print medium into a serious space for art.  What was the effect of the changing relationship between the manuscript and the printed book production?  Were the changes in the means of production caused by the various changes in the social organization of the times in Europe or did thse changes cause the  break up of the normative culture of the time?  It is my belief that the changes in the means of production of books and other things such as maps and prints caused many of the changes we will see in the European social development.  It was this change that we can chart in the various changes in social organization, politics and economics from feudalism of the pre-industrial period to the advent and advance of early capitalism in the 15th century.

     In 1452 Gutenberg discovered the idea of moveable type in Europe (the Chinese had been doing it for years before).  Gutenberg gets credit for this even though it can be shown that it developed elsewhere at the same time in places as diverse as Holland and in Prague.  But we should look at what he really did. First he improved upon the screw type press that was being used in wine making.  He took from the textile manufacture the idea of using wood blocks in printing and the idea that was also being used in block books at this time.  So why is  Gutenbert important?  Before his time, most books were written by the church.  The movable type press made "mass production" of books possible at a time when knowledge and literacy were not widespread.  In the 15th century, the rise of book publishing surely helped increase the number of people who could read.  (In the Jewish community reading was much more common at this time)  his invention lead to modern book publishing as we know it today.  But first we should understand that early printers were generally very small firms.  In the 16th century the press was of  modest operations-generally they might have five workers three working the press and two compositors.  The work was undoubtedly laborious (but less so than block book printing) and it became established in more than 250 cities around Europe.  Most printing was in the form of books and pamphlets.  So few technological changes were made between Gutenberg's time and the invention of Lithography in the late 18th century, that printed matter remained and expansive acquistion enjoyed by relatively few.  The jobbing printer was basically unknown, as the vast majority of the gentile european population remained illiterate.  It was still a slow and tedious process to print a book.  Saints pictures were popular with the unread population.

     In my work I ask the question is it art?  And what about the issue of originality?  Can work be reproductive and still be original?  This is clearly with in the history of printmaking as shown by the work of Hans Buldring Grurin  did do work in a Durer like manner.  An Example of this would be my interpretation of  Melancholy I   My work is entering a period of autobiographical study not unlike the self-portraits that were very important in Albrect Durer's art work.  (date 2000)

     What are the effects of reproductive printmaking on current printmaking practices and on my own work?

"The trade wood-engravers were an important feature of the 19th century printing industry, Thomas Bewich (1753-1828) had revolutionized the techique of wood-engraving by working on the end of the grain of the wood, instead of along the grain, and with a burin instead of a knife, and given the art a great new impetus.  He was indeed, the founder of that school of engravers whose finest work is to be seen  in the illustrated books of the 1860's.  These men were more than successful interpreters of the drawings of the eminent illustrators for whom they worked were; many of them were creative artist in their own right.  An examination of engravings by the brothers Delziel will soon prove the truth of this statement." 2 Printers Progress 1851-1951  Charles Rosner Cambridge, Harvard University press 1951

"Dore's drawings on the wood were done in a very hasty and slovenly way, mussed up and slopped over with India ink, Chinese white and pencil, and leaft to the engravers to clean up.  The engravers of the French school translated the drawings by Dore according to their individual styles, but not according to the drawings themselves. Pisan, Dannemaker and Jonnard absorbed most of 
Dore's output, which was prodigious.  These engravers kept apprentices to help out, and some of the work crossed the channel to London and was engraved by Linton.  The French engravers were making of Dore, and he in turn kept them on the go with a drawing every hour, and sometimes two and three."  3 pp 27 Timothy Cole  Wood Engraver.  N. Y., N.Y. the pioneer Associates

     The role of the wood-engraver was unlike the role of the formschnider and the woodcutter in Japanese woodcuts. The difference was that at the higher level of the craft he was given more latitude in how the finished product would look like.  The other two craftsmen just followed the artist's instruction or in some cases with the Japanese prints the dictates of the publisher.  On creativity; I haveno choice but to be creative and being an artist as I am compelled to do it by my very nature  It is some internal demand that i do not even control that commands me to creat.  The only thing that I control is the use of the the material and the related techniques and the content.  But the most important thing is the releasing of the message.  It is this idea the geoes into the essence of my making art.  It is this that is my artistic voice, the making public of my personal feelings and ideas.   When I am creative this is my nature.  At other times it is just my ideal of 'High' form of craftsmanship.  It is these ideas of craftsmanship that led me to a point where I hand no choice but to choose the media that i work in.  It is not an accident that I am an engraver/formschnider woodcutter.  The tight formalism that is part and parcel with this media is also a part of my very nature.  I feel I can get my message out the way I want to sometimes the nature of printmaking change, I would like to combine in my work the view of printmaking as it was in the past with the present.  I utilize techniques of the past that are not commonly used today, such as steel engraving and mezzotint, and ring them into m work now. I feel much has been lost.  The techniques of the craftsmen of the past are not being used now because the time to learn the and the people to teach them do not exist today.  So my study of the reproductive past in printmaking will hopefully bring forth fruit that I can use today and in the future.  I believe strongly that the styles and history of European art are important to my art.  It is very important for me to understand what went before.  In the future either using steel wood, or copper engraving (all of which came from past commerical printing) orusing the computer in my work (not)  to all of this it is just a tool like the ruling machine of the reproductive printmaker.

     Printmakers often feel that the print is the most important thing It is outside the normative view to make the matrix have an equal place with the print.  The shape of the pieces is as fellows. the  prints are framed in a modern interpretation of historical frames hand made by the artist.  The naure of their hanging will raise the historical issues I am concerned with.  The Block book will be chained to the lectern and the Post-Mortum Collaboration will be contained in a 19th century bookcase.  The matrices will be contaiined in a chest or curiosity cabinet.  All woodwork will be within historical norms for the craft.  I am trying to push my abil8ity in this area, using furniture-building techniques to compliment the prints  Each part of the piece will contain wooden hand made objects either as frames,(which will reeadily be apparent as an important part of the exhibit, not just to hole artwork).My method is to cut the matrix very meticulously either in wood, copper or steel and to print rather loosely.  Craftsmanship is a big component of the concept.


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