Statement on Woodcut Prints
Inspirations for Woodcuts:
Lyonel Feininger - Graphic art
Andreas Feininger - Photography
George Herriman - Comic strips
Phillip Guston - Paintings 1969-1973
Bohuslav Martinu - 20th century music
George Walker - Industrial design of the 30's
Raymond Chandler - Phillip Marlowe
Irving Gill - Architecture
Cezanne - The be-all, end-all
The first sketch for a print does not seem to be hard to explain; it has a history of sketches, converging themes, memories. But I can't understand the process of choices that puts it in final form. What one learns about color, composition, contrasts (all from Cezanne), does not explain the selection of a particular hue, the decision to change the values, reworking the shapes. It seems like chance. And the results of a slight shift are sometimes amazing, very dramatic. Listening to music is very helpful.
I think a basic urge in art is to want to make one's experiences more permanent, less fleeting, less elusive, more clarified, identified. But art begins by replacing experience. And art itself is just as transient. It's like a parallel reality even in its ungraspability. Nor is the act of perception anymore concentrated or reliable. What a headache. The coherence of the composition only lends an illusory sense of permanence and completeness to a subject.
"Picture plane" composition suits woodcuts. Distinct shapes, cut-out shapes. They can be shaded to volumes, and the space they are set against or shade into is both wonderfully open and a tangible presence. Without perspective modulation colors are more independent.
For me, though, what animates a picture is what animate the objects in the picture. An attitude. I see it when I'm sketching. Houses watching a street. Cars disagreeing with each other. Trucks happily cresting a hill, trundling off into the distance. Factories outdoing each other. And trees, full of very dark observations on the events around them. Water, a brooding, waiting peril. Sunlight, the one benign presence, saying for everything it touches, "I exist!" And color sets the mood, the contextual feeling which always relates to a time of day: the unknown forces of night, reassuring morning light, hard severity of mid-day, the uneasy portents of evening.
How does this square with all that nostalgia I wrote for past shows, about train yards, ships on the Willamette, and new buildings going up downtown? I don't know. I get carried away.
Our house (in Portland) looked over the industrial section of town. Those ships. You didn't see them right off, but noticed something tall moving behind the warehouses - then you would see it was a huge freighter, sliding silently by. My brother remembers old chain-drive Mack trucks working in massive black piles of coal below the gas and coke plant. Looking much the same as the workers who took the bus home at night. And old Mr. Carnie's streetcar was just as surly as he was. You didn't have to see him at the controls.
I'm spectulating that maybe animating the objects takes the place of the original act of participation with them. We spent summers in a rental cottage at the beach, and each year we'd all be yearning for the first look at the ocean. Later, crossing the Cascades into Eastern Oregon for Forest Service summer jobs, the contrast of the desert to the valley made it seem magical.
Common enough experiences, but probably one should keep the anthropomorphic tendencies in check.
Simpler explanation. Wanting to laugh off the foolishness of it all, the futility of trying to understand anything, anybody.