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Homage print ...

Posted by Dave Bull at 11:56 PM, July 9, 2013 [Permalink]

Or is 'homage' just a euphemism for 'stealing'?

First, a bit of history. The Japanese prints of the Edo-era get a pretty good press these days, and most people with any knowledge of the field have come to think of Japanese printmaking as a pinnacle of the art. That may indeed be so, and some of the work created here at the height of the popularity of the genre is indeed astonishing in its intricacy and complexity. But we who work 'over here' would be less than honest if we failed to acknowledge that the Europeans also were capable of pretty fine work. And not only fine work, but work done much earlier than the Japanese.

Here is an example of a European print, dating from the 1640s, long before the Japanese were doing anything but rudimentary buddhist iconography. (Clicking will link to a 1.6Mb enlargement, so please give it time to download, and then enlarge it in your browser - or save it on your own computer and view it in a proper image viewer).

This is by Claude Mellan, and requires a bit of explanation. The print is a tour-de-force of technique. If you look at the enlargement closely, you can see - starting at the nose - that the entire image - face, background fabric, lettering, etc. - is formed from a single engraved line. As this line swells and shrinks in thickness, the deposition of the ink changes, and our brains perceive the areas to have different 'tone', even though this is a print in one colour in one impression.

He had an astonishing degree of skill at cutting, especially considering that he had no photography to guide him (nor Photoshop!). I have admired this print for years, and have always wanted to give this a try.

Well, a couple of months ago, I got my chance. Printmaker Maria Arango in Las Vegas has in recent years sponsored a number of collaborative print exchanges, in which she prepares a large sheet of wood, chops it into pieces, distributes these to printmakers around the world, and then reassembles everything in her studio, where she takes impressions from the resulting 'fractured' block.

I decided to join her most recent project - her 'Puzzleprint' blog is here - and for my entry I made a small print using the Mellan formula - a single spiral line that thickened here and there to create an image.

Mine is nowhere near as sophisticated as Mellan's version, but it was fun to make, and I think I might explore this idea further in the future.

I sent my block off to Maria some weeks ago, and although her project is not yet complete, she is blogging the progress, and today featured some images of my block and a test proof taken from it.


I hope Mr. Mellan doesn't mind!


Following comment posted by: Snizzbut on July 10, 2013 6:22 AM

Wow, beautiful!
Kind of reminds me of a thumbprint, and I love butterflies.

Personally I would have made the 'background' lines a bit thinner but its still amazing!

Following comment posted by: Dave on July 10, 2013 7:03 AM

I would have made the 'background' lines a bit thinner

So would I ... but the wood Maria selected is very very soft indeed, and - given that this will be printed together with other blocks carved much more 'heavily' - I didn't dare push it too far ...

Following comment posted by: Anita on July 10, 2013 11:02 AM

Thanks for this glimpse into the world of woodblock print artists. This is a revelation to me--and I love your butterfly.

Following comment posted by: Dale on July 28, 2013 6:35 AM

Dave - if any of your readers have an opportunity to visit the city of Quebec before February 2016, they will be able to see this print at the exhibition "Revelations. Understanding the World Through Art" as part of the 350th anniversary of the Seminary of Quebec at the Musee de l'Amerique Francophone. Bring a magnifying glass: you can get that close! The print is incredible, to say the least! Perhaps your subscribers can look forward to a print of a single line sometime in the future! (hint hint)

Following comment posted by: Nathalie on August 8, 2013 10:01 AM

Dale - Is the exhibition live now or will be going up soon? I live somewhat near QC and would love to see the exhibition!

Any chance this print is/will be made available for sale?

Following comment posted by: Dave on August 8, 2013 10:23 AM

Nathalie, I've passed your question over to Dale; whether or not he can reply I'm not sure.

As for my print, it won't be sold ... I don't have the block any more. That has been glued to Maria's backboard, so the only prints made will be the ones she herself makes from it. You can contact her at 1000woodcuts.com if you want ....

Following comment posted by: Dale on August 8, 2013 11:36 AM

Nathalie, the website for the Musee de l'Amerique Francophone is here: http://www.mcq.org/en/maf/. The exhibition will continue through Feb 28, 2016. By the way the museum is free to all on Tuesdays from November 1 through March 31. Seeing the print is really worth it if you can find the time to go, even if you have to spend the $8 for admission.

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