A woodcut by Moissey Kogan depicting two riders seen in side view against a white half sphere set into a red background. One horse is draped in a medievalesque yellow cloth. Trees sketched in black, one with green leaves, the others with lights to the end of their branches curve towards the left indicating the forward movement of the riders

An Advent Calendar of Modernist Prints

A selection of prints produced by various makers using a variety of printmaking techniques, mostly secular in theme, but not always, to mark the festive period.

 

Day 1

A woodcut by Moissey Kogan depicting two riders seen in side view against a white half sphere set into a red background. One horse is draped in a medievalesque yellow cloth. Trees sketched in black, one with green leaves, the others with lights to the end of their branches curve towards the left indicating the forward movement of the riders
Vasily Kandinsky, Two Riders before Red, image size: 10.7 x 15.8 cm; sheet size: 28.1 x 27.7 cm, 1911, plate, folio 4, one of 56 woodcuts produced to illustrate 38 prose poems for Klänge (Sounds), published by R. Piper & Co., Munich © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris

Two Riders before Red was one of 56 woodcuts, twelve of them in colour (as here), which Vasily Kandinsky produced between 1907 and 1911. He selected them to accompany a group of prose-poems he composed from 1909 onwards, publishing them as an illustrated book entitled Klänge (Sounds) in late 1912 or early 1913.

Kandinsky referred to this publication as a “musical album”. The interplay of text-as-prose-poem and text-as-typography, together with images set within expanses of blank space, spoke to his ideas concerning the crucial importance in his work of creating a synthesis of the arts, a kind of Gesamtkunstwerk. In his earlier book, On the Spiritual in Art, 1911, the artist had written about his synaesthetic experience of Richard Wagner’s music, a facility he was able to incorporate into much of his oeuvre,

“I saw all my colours in my mind; they stood before my eyes. Wild, almost crazy lines were sketched in front of me. . . . Colour directly influences the soul. . . . Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another purposively, to cause vibrations in the soul.”

The motif of the rider as featured in this woodcut symbolised for him the move towards abstraction so central to his work. Over the period in which Kandinsky produced this series of woodcuts, his imagery became increasingly occluded. For him, the manner in which he worked the woodblock to produce flattened, spare images, served to increase the expressivity of the resultant work, a choice he referred to as “an inner necessity”.

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Day 2

A woodcut in black and white, expressively drawn depicting in broad strokes a garden covered in snow
Edvard MunchGarden in Snow II, woodcut, 34.3 × 42.9 cm, 1913 (WO 467; Sch. 418)

Edvard Munch became a printmaker relatively late in his career – at the age of 30 – but it was his prints that brought him to greater public awareness and ultimately established his renown as an artist. Since he could, of course, make multiple impressions from a worked surface, such as the woodblock in the case of Garden in Snow II (aside from woodcuts, he also produced lithographs and etchings), he quickly ensured a wider circulation of his work than he could achieve with his more expensive paintings.

His adoption of these print techniques also allowed him the freedom to experiment. He often reworked themes or made variants of an image, a radical departure for a printmaker at the time. Examples include the variants he executed of his most famous image, The Scream.

Munch moved to Berlin from Kristiania, Norway, in 1892, and started making prints a few years later. Avant-garde artists working and exhibiting in the city started to take note of, and respond to, his work. He has thus often been termed the father of German Expressionism.

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Day 3

Brightly coloured blue cross with grey terminating lines above and below creating four spaces in which further red and blue crosses appear alongside oblique black and yellow elements
Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Four Spaces with a Broken Cross (Quatre espaces à croix brisée) from portfolio, Art of Today, Masters of Abstract Art (Art d’aujourd’hui, maîtres de l’art abstrait), Album I, image size: 43 × 33.4 cm; sheet size: 64 × 48.8 cm, Éditions Art d’Aujourd’hui, Boulogne, 1953 (original executed in gouache on paper in 1932)

This work by Swiss-French artist, Sophie Taeuber-Arp, was one of a portfolio of 16 screenprint reproductions, published in 1953 by Éditions Art d’Aujourd’hui, Boulogne in an edition of 300. Taeuber-Arp, a prominent artist and designer of her time, was featured in the portfolio alongside  Giacomo Balla, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay-Terk, Albert Gleizes, Auguste Herbin, Vasily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, František Kupka, Fernand Léger, Alberto Magnelli, Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia, Theo van Doesburg, Jacques Villon and her husband, Jean Arp.

‘They are planar spaces,’ wrote Jean Arp, ‘in which lines cut across planes, lines separate light from dark, lines divide the picture. She called these pictures ‘Space Pictures’ [Räumebilder]. These planar spatial realities were designed using colour and plane alone, without recourse to perspective or three-dimensional illusion.’

MOMA, which owns a copy of this portfolio, dedicated an exhibition to Taeuber-Arp earlier this year: Sophie Taeuber-Arp, Living Abstraction

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Day 4

Paul Nash, Snow Scene, wood engraving, 9.7 x 12.6 cm, 1920

This print was one of the group of 8 wood engravings executed by British artist, Paul Nash (1889-1946) in 1919, and, as such, is an example of his first use of the technique. He chose to show it at the Society of Wood Engravers’ second exhibition in November 1919.

The wood engraving technique is a type of relief printmaking using a wooden block as surface. The artist cuts lines into the block with a burin or other fine-pointed tool. The difference between a wood-engraving and a woodcut stems from the kind of wood and tools employed to work the block. In the case of a wood engraving, hard end-grain wood (usually boxwood) is cut across the grain with engraving tools, whereas with a woodcut, soft-grain wood is cut along the grain with a knife and gouge.

Nash‘s subject matter stems from his fascination for the powerful presence of a row of elm trees, which marked the perimeter of his garden in Iver Heath, Buckinghamshire. He wrote,

‘About the centre of this elm-row stood three trees which in spite, or perhaps because of their rigorous cropping had emerged into a singular grace. Their feathered bodies mingled together as they thrust upwards and their three heads fused in cascades of dense leaves spreading out like the crown of a vast fountain. I knew these three intimately.’

(Paul Nash, Outline; an autobiography and other writings, London, 1949, p. 95)

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Day 5

Beneath a soft yellow sun comprised of rings, stand Mary in soft blue holding the Christ Child in soft yellow alongside a light-coloured donkey. To the right of the image is a crib and a tree sketchily drawn. Above the sun floats an angel in soft red tones
Marc Chagall, Soleil d’Hiver (M. 716), coloured lithograph on Arches; image size: 47.6 x 31.7 cm; sheet size: 64.7 x 48.9 cm, 1974

Marc Chagall started producing prints in around 1922 at the suggestion of avant-garde art dealer and publisher, Paul Cassirer. By the end of his career, he had made over 1,000 lithographs and more than 500 etchings.

However, it was not until Chagall was living in the USA, having escaped from Nazi-occupied France, that he turned to lithography. This medium allowed him to incorporate the vibrant colours that characterised his painted work to great effect.

Chagall worked with master printer, Charles Sorlier, at the lithography studio, Imprimerie Mourlot, on many series of lithographs. In 1974, the year in which the artist executed Soleil d’hiver, Sorlier wrote,

“With every stone, lithography is born again . . . I have had the rare privilege of seeing Chagall at work, and it cannot be denied that, at times, it seems as if an angel has entered the workshop.”

Chagall himself wrote,

“Something would have been lacking in my life if . . . I had not at a certain stage become involved in engraving and lithography . . . Each time I had a lithographic stone or a copper plate in my hands, I felt that I was touching a talisman to which I could entrust all my sorrows and all my joys.”

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Day 6

Double-sided lithograph, to verso: Joan Miró, Paul Klee – Sommeil d’hiver, lithograph in black/white; to recto: Paul Klee, Sommeil d’Hiver (Hibernation) from the Four Seasons series, colour lithograph on paper, image size: 35 x 22.5 cm, sheet size: 35 x 24.5 cm, 1938, publisher: Tériade, Paris; printer: Mourlot Frères, Paris

This lithograph in black and white by Joan Miró, entitled Paul Klee – Sommeil d’hiver, appears on the reverse of a colour lithograph by Paul Klee, Sommeil d’hiver, dated 1938, published by Tériade, Paris.

Paul Klee, Sommeil d’Hiver (Hibernation) from the Four Seasons series, colour lithograph on paper, image size: 35 x 22.5 cm, sheet size: 35 x 24.5 cm, 1938, publisher: Tériade, Paris; printer: Mourlot Frères, Paris

Klee produced his image for inclusion in the avant-garde magazine, Verve, vol. 1, no. 3, 1938, which had been launched the previous year. Verve, founded by Tériade, nom-de-plume of Stratis (or Efstratios) Eleftheriades, who hailed from the Greek island of Lesbos, was a luxurious publication. Its typography and process colour work were carried out by the Imprimerie des Beaux-Arts, Paris; heliogravures were produced by Draeger Fréres and Neogravure, and its lithographs by the famous Mourlot Fréres.

Tériade had an illustrious career behind him. Initially trained as a lawyer, he established himself as an art critic, patron and publisher within the avant-garde circles of the French capital. He had founded the review, Minotaure, in 1933 in conjunction with Swiss publisher, Albert Skira, and had earlier collaborated with his friend, art historian, Christian Zervos, on the influential journal, Cahiers d’Art. Verve differed from these previous publications in its sumptuous production values. As well as commissioning colour lithographs from major Modernist masters, Tériade also featured the writing of Albert Camus, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, André Malraux, and Jean-Paul Sartre, amongst others.

In an article for the New York Times in October 1988, John Russell recalled that Verve was not merely a vehicle for promoting the masters of the School of Paris,

“It was powered in its earlier years by a wild range of editorial fancy that came as a continual suprise to most readers. There was no knowing what would come next — a 16th– century doll from the Himalayas, a bust of Louis XIV by Houdon, an essay on ”Fire” by John dos Passos, an essay on the sculptor Henri Laurens by his colleague Alberto Giacometti, a detail from Giotto’s ”St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata” in gold and color photogravure, a daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe by the American photographer Matthew Brady, an illustrated account by Fernand Léger of the Paris Exposition of 1937, a still life by the 17th-century Spanish painter Sánchez Cotán or an early extract from André Malraux’s ”Psychology of Art.”

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Day 7

Lithograph in subtle colours by Ker-Xavier Roussel. To the foreground a woman in profile in a black dress and choker with a white lace collar stands against a snowy backdrop. Behind her a woman in black leaning over a mischievous puppy. To the rear a group of young trees with pale trunks against a black thicket and off-white snow-laden sky.
Ker-Xavier Roussel, Dans la neige (In the Snow), colour lithograph on wove paper, 29.8 x 41.2 cm, 1893, edition of 100 for L’Estampe originale, publisher: André Marty, printed: Delanchy, Ancourt et Cie, 1893

Ker-Xavier Roussel was a founding member of the group of Post-Impressionist artists, known as the Nabis (‘prophets’ in Hebrew). Other members included Pierre Bonnard, Maurice Denis, Aristide Maillol, Félix Vallotton and Édouard Vuillard. Together, they declared themselves to be followers of Gauguin, admiring in particular his use of flat areas of colour encompassed by bold black outlines, as can be seen in Dans la neige. Although the group lacked any kind of stylistic unity, the artists shared a fascination for the flatness of Japanese art, as well as the craftsmanship and decorative qualities of the applied arts.

The Nabis were acclaimed in particular for their prints. Roussel would have worked in conjunction with a team of print specialists to render his image into lithographic form. An artiste or dessinateur would have transferred the form of the image to the lithographic stone, whilst a chromiste (colour specialist) would have transformed the complexities of the artist’s palette into a simple range of colours to be applied to the stone in succession.

Between 1893 and 1895, Parisian printer, André Marty, published a nine-volume series of print portfolios, entitled L’Estampe originale (The Original Print). Marty invited the Nabis and some of their associates to produce 12 prints for inclusion in the first portfolio. L’Estampe originale featured the most avant-garde prints of the day, and included work executed using a variety of print processes, including lithographs, woodcuts, wood engravings and a number of intaglio techniques. The portfolios were published in an edition of 100 and were available every three months on a subscription basis to print collectors. L’Estampe originale was highly revered at the time and made a major contribution to the popularity of modern prints during the fin-de-siècle.

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Day 8

Frans Masereel, one of 16 woodcuts published as Souvenir de mons pays, Seize images dessinées et gravées sur bois, Éditions de Sablier, Geneva, 1921

Frans Masereel was a master of the woodcut art. His body of work is vast and includes many series of woodcuts, as well as illustrations for books by Rainer Maria Rilke, Stefan Zweig, Walt Whitman, and others.

Masereel belonged to anarchist circles in Belgium prior to the First World War, choosing the woodcut as a means to reach a popular audience to convey his anarchist and pacifist views. Based in Switzerland in exile in the early 1920s, he conceived the idea of the ‘wordless novel’, each a sequence of woodcut images without captions, telling a story by visual means alone. His critique of war was virulent, but he also used his image-making to depict aspects of the idyllic, peaceful society he sought to help to create. His ‘wordless novels’ appeared as limited editions initially; nevertheless their considerable popularity, particularly in Germany, meant that subsequent editions were published to meet demand.

Masereel’s art has seen somewhat of a revival in recent years. This has been in large part to do with the importance accorded to his woodcut oeuvre by several of the most influential graphic novelists of recent decades. Both Eric Drooker, author of Flood! A Novel in Pictures (1992) and Art Spiegelman, well-known as the creator of Maus, initially produced as a comic (1980s), and then a graphic novel (1991), cite Masereel as a major influence.

“This boundless wealth of ideas surprises one, particularly in a series of sixteen cuts which he calls Memories of Home [Souvenir de mon pays]. In this series he often groups seven or eight little scenes round the principal subject, which elaborate it and strengthen the significance of the whole. In each of these pictures there are such a mass of notes, of contrasts which mutually enhance each other, that one never scans the pages of the book without discovering new details, hitherto overlooked.” Edmund Bucher, ‘Frans Masereel and his woodcuts’ in Herbert Furst (ed.), The Woodcut: An Annual, vol. II, London: Curwen Press, 1928

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Day 9

Blair Hughes Stanton, Moonshine, colour linocut, 72.2 x 48 cm, 1960 © The Trustees of the British Museum

Blair Hughes Stanton was a highly technically skilled wood engraver, who studied at the Byam Shaw Art School, the Royal Academy Schools and the Leon Underwood School of Painting and Sculpture as a young man. An accomplished book illustrator, he worked, at various times, for English private presses, including the Golden Cockerel Press, the Cresset Press, and the Greynog Press. In 1933, funded by Robert Sainsbury, he established the Gemini Press with Ida Graves, his then partner, with the aim of printing books of poetry illustrated by contemporary artists.

In this image, we see him apply his mastery of wood engraving to a colour linocut. Depicting a moon casting its light on the landscape below, Moonshine was one of the experimental prints using this technique that Hughes Stanton produced in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
Earlier linocut artists in Britain, such as members of the Grosvenor School (Claude Flight, Sybil Andrews and Cyril Power, amongst others) had created colour linocut prints using different blocks for each overlaid colour, a technique that, at times, in less skilled hands could lead to difficulties with alignment. Hughes Stanton instead adopted the more exacting ‘reductive’ method, which involved using one linoleum block engraved successively as each colour was applied, with lighter colours typically sitting below darker ones.

In her catalogue raisonné, The Wood Engravings of Hughes Stanton, Penelope Hughes Stanton, daughter of the artist, states that he had produced ‘8-9-colour, progressively cut, elimination linocuts’ as illustrations for Joseph Conrad’s book, Youth, in 1959. Elsewhere, research has found that Hughes Stanton’s prints were executed using three or four reduction blocks, and as many as 17 or more printings. He reserved his individual blocks for specific colours – yellow, red, blue or grey/blacks – and associated tones, thus achieving a wide spectrum of colours for his prints.

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Day 10

White images on a black ground of a falling figure amongst comets, clouds, a crrescent moon and stars, all simply drawn
Maria Uhden, Himmel (The Heavens), woodcut on rice paper, image size: 18 x 13.6 cm, sheet size: 25.5 cm, 1917; gift of Collection Société Anonyme; photo credit: Yale University Art Gallery

Until 1919, women were forbidden to study at art academies in Germany. Nonetheless, Maria Uhden moved to Berlin with the intention of becoming a professional artist. She took private drawing lessons and attended a college of arts and crafts, a route then allowed to women, since the crafts were considered to be secondary in status to that of the fine arts. She and her close friend, the now better known artist, Hannah Höch, soon came to the notice of Herwarth Walden, publicist and owner of the avant-garde Sturm Galerie, one of the key centres of the radical art world in Berlin at the time. Unlike many other gallery owners, Walden fostered female artists as a priority (one in four of his artists were women), representing no fewer than 30 women artists, including Uhden. He accorded her a solo exhibition in 1915 at the age of 23; included her work in his hugely influential, Expressionist art journal, Der Sturm, and sold reproductions of her woodcuts as postcards in his gallery.

Himmel was featured on the title page of Der Sturm in January 1918. Only six months later, Uhden died of complications associated with the birth of her first child. The woodcut would later be published, with the permission of Uhden’s husband, Georg Schrimpf, and given full-page prominence, in Roger Avermaete’s prestigious and comprehensive compendium, La gravure sur bois moderne de l’occident of 1928. Avermaete noted that Uhden’s woodcuts could be accorded equal standing with those of Kandinsky and Franz Marc, and almost equalled those of Heinrich Campendonck. He stated,

“Maria Uhden . . . was an artist of great talent . . . her style aimed at order and clarity. Her woodcuts are clearly delineated. White, black, separated by clean lines, without errors. For the rest, a synthetic vision, deliberately suppressing details, which allows for the realisation of strong, well-balanced works.”

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Day 11

Romare Bearden, The Annunciation (The Visitor), collagraph, photo-projection and colour monoprint on thick wove paper, 30 x 40 cm, circa 1970

Romare Bearden returned to the subject matter of the Annunciation on numerous occasions during his career. He worked primarily as a collage artist, first treating the subject in the form of collage and photo-projection, entitled Tidings, as part of his major series, Prevalence of Ritual, dated 1964. An African-American, whose family had been forced north from Charlotte, North Carolina during the Great Migration, he drew his imagery both from that heritage and from his lived experience in Harlem. The ritual in his work was sourced from the gestures of everyday life around him, and was fused with the mystical mythology of the black American South.

A collagraph (from the Greek colla, meaning to glue, and graph, to draw) is a collage of materials affixed to a printing plate. Once inked up, the resultant image is printed onto paper. This printmaking technique permits the artist to produce varying tonal and relief-like effects in the resultant print. It is often employed together with other processes, such as etching, or as in The Annunciation, photo-projection and colour monoprint, to create a complex, layered image.

Bearden joined the 306 Group, an association of black artists living in Harlem, in 1936-37. Fellow members included Gwendolyn Bennett, Aaron Douglas, Norman Lewis and Augusta Savage. Many of the artists were also members of the Harlem Artists Guild, a more formal organisation of black artists active from the mid-1930s until the outbreak of the Second World War. Bearden was an influential activist, speaking out in support of the arts and on contemporary social issues. In 1963, he founded the Spiral Group, together with Charles Alston, Norman Lewis and Hale Woodruff, a forum intended as a space for African-American artists to debate their role in the Civil Rights Movement. He was the first art director of the Harlem Cultural Council, and in late 1969, he founded the Cinque Gallery with fellow artists, Norman Lewis and Ernest Crichlow, with the aim of providing an exhibiting space for young black artists.

In 1971, Bearden was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and on his death in 2013, the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. staged a retrospective of his work. In his obituary of Bearden for Charlotte Magazine, his close friend, Richard Maschal, stated,

“By lifting the black experience to the level of myth, he not only celebrated it but made it universal, sharing what it had in common with other cultures.”

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Day 12

Lyonel Feininger, Untitled (City with Church in the Sun), woodcut on fine oriental laid paper, image size: 16.5 x 24.7 cm, sheet size: 24 x 30.3 cm, 1918, published by the Staatliches Bauhaus, Weimar, 1920.

This woodcut by German-American artist, Lyonel Feininger, was produced in two editions. One of 40 on fine oriental laid paper, and another more luxurious edition of 10 on thicker Japan paper, all handprinted by the artist at the Bauhaus, where he had been appointed as master of form in the printmaking studio in 1919. In 1920, it was published as sheet four as part of a portfolio of woodcuts by the artist, entitled Zwölf Holzschnitte von Lyonel Feininger (Twelve Woodcuts by Lyonel Feininger), the first publication to be printed by the Bauhaus school, then in Weimar.

Feininger had started his career in 1894, drawing comic strips for magazines in both the USA and Germany, and working, amongst others, for Das Narrenschiff, Lustige Blätter and The Chicago Sunday Tribune. His best known strips, for the latter publication, were The Kin-der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World, 1906-7, most of which were executed in colour and given full-page prominence.

It was not until 1918 (at the age of 47) that Feininger began to work in the woodcut medium, having been introduced to the technique by Emma Ritter, a pupil of the Brücke artist, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. Drawing on mountain scenery and, especially the angular lines of the pine trees of the Harz region of Germany where he was on holiday, as well as children’s art, often a source of inspiration for Expressionist artists, he worked zealously to master the medium executing many works in his customary prismatic, Cubistic style. By the end of 1918, he had executed 117 woodcuts in all (in total he produced around 320 such works during his lifetime). He would typically make small deft preparatory drawings in pencil, before carving the imagery directly into wooden blocks.

In early 1919, he wrote to his friend, the artist, Alfred Kubin,

“I have hardly painted at all, nor made any drawings. The only thing I have done is take up woodcuts. . . . This technique gives me so much pleasure and I just dropped everything else.”

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Day 13

Sonia Delaunay, one of 15 illustrations and two title page images accompanying an edition of Arthur Rimbaud: Les Illuminations, pochoir in colours with handcolouring in graphite, sheet size 56.8 x 39.7 cm, 1973, on Arches wove paper, limited edition of 90, published by J. Damase, Paris.

Sonia Delaunay was a French-Ukrainian artist based in Paris, one of the first generation of artists during the early decades of the 20th century to employ a non-figurative mode of expression. Her painterly abstraction lay in a use of colour contrasts, building on discoveries about colour made by Post-Impressionist artists. In the 1920s and ‘30s, she applied her experimental approach to fashion and textile design, becoming a prominent figure in the world of couture, although dismissed for this reason by critics and art historians of the last century, who gave primacy to painting and the fine arts.

In an earlier collaboration with a poet, Delaunay had worked alongside Blaise Cendrars in 1913 on the highly regarded artist’s book, La Prose du Transsibérien et de la petite Jehanne de France, executed in letterpress and pochoir. Cendrars’s poem describes a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway, its radical format and typography interwoven with Delaunay’s abstract imagery. The artists termed it the ‘first simultaneous book’, that is, text and images were accorded equal importance and were to be read in parallel.

In 1973, at the age of 88, the year in which she was awarded the Grand Prix des Arts for her life’s work, Delaunay was invited to produce images for an edition of Arthur Rimbaud’s collection of 42 poems, entitled Illuminations. These prose poems were first published in installments in 1886 in the magazine, La Vogue. Considered to be the poet’s most technically sophisticated work and to prefigure Surrealist poetry, the collection’s themes – revolt, the fairytale, the enigmatic, the ideal modern cityscape – are presented in a hallucinatory, at times occluded, manner.

For this project, Delaunay again adopted the time-consuming pochoir technique, a laborious method of printmaking involving the use of stencils. In the early years of the century, the hand application of layers of pigment by means of stencilling had created vibrant effects that the camera or printing press were not yet able to achieve. Pochoir was a popular technique amongst book illustrators and fashion designers in the 1910s and 1920s, and Delaunay had been a prominent proponent of the method, using it to illustrate her designs for couture, as well as for her painterly explorations.

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Day 14

Sue Fuller, Hen, soft-ground etching and engraving, one of an edition of 50, image size: 37.9 x 29.7 cm; sheet size: 44.5 × 37 cm, 1945, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York © Estate of Sue Fuller

Sue Fuller was an innovative American sculptor, collagist and printmaker. She briefly studied design with Josef Albers, then based in New York, who introduced her to the experimental use of textiles.

‘It was hearing Albers speak of texture, which . . . began to stimulate my mind in the areas of threads, you see, and cross thread. Instead of crosshatching . . . you could use a fabric, and so it became really a collage technique in metal plate.” Excerpt from oral history interview with Sue Fuller, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian, 1975.

At the time of making Hen, Fuller was a member of Atelier 17, an avant-garde printmaking studio in New York. Originally based in Paris from 1927, it moved to the US city in 1940, becoming a key site of artistic exchange between European and American artists. The work of women printmakers was too often marginalised by the art establishment of the era, but Atelier 17 allowed women the space, on relatively equal footing with male artists, to collaborate and experiment with revolutionary print techniques and styles.

Hen was based on a preparatory collage, featuring a modified Victorian lace collar. Fuller transferred the texture and pattern of the fabric onto a prepared soft-ground etching plate, reworking it to create the figure of a bird. The print won first prize at the Graphic Arts Show in New York the following year, which led directly to Fuller’s first solo exhibition in 1947. The show included nearly thirty of the prints she had produced at Atelier 17, and showcased her impressive technical printmaking innovations.

Fuller’s interest in geometric abstraction, and her adoption of thread as medium, facilitated the employment of grids and lines in her printed work. Three years after producing Hen, Fuller developed her experimental printmaking achievements, reworking them in three dimensions. Her sculpture makes use of string in a range of different colours and thicknesses, stretched across almost invisible framing structures.

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Day 15

Oskar Kokoschka, Drei schlafende Hirten und ihre Herde (Sleeping Shepherds with their Flock), postcard no. 116, chromolithograph, 14 x 9 cm, published Wiener Werkstätte, 1908 (Archiv der Wiener Werkstätte, MAK Vienna)

Oskar Kokoschka produced the design for this postcard in 1908, when he was still a student at the Kunstgewerbeschule (School of Arts and Crafts) in Vienna. The previous year, through the agency of his teachers, he had been introduced to the Wiener Werkstätte (Viennese Workshops), where he was initially commissioned to produce drawings for children and postcards (such as this one). Kokoschka subsequently became fascinated with all aspects of book design, from layout to binding to illustration, as a result of this early introduction to the processes involved.

The Wiener Werkstätte had been founded in 1903 with a view to introducing the public to well-conceived design in all aspects of the crafts, from furniture and ceramics to graphic design. The manifesto outlining the aims of the new workshops, stated,

‘That immeasurable damage caused on the one hand by inferior methods of mass production, on the other, by the mindless imitation of bygone styles, has become a mighty torrent of world-wide proportions. . . . We want to establish an intimate connection between public, designer and craftsman, . . .’

Graphic design, including stationery, book design, amongst other items, was an important focus for the Werkstätte, given its popular reach. The Workshop’s postcards, in particular, produced between 1907 and 1920 using recently invented chromolithographic technology, were published as hugely successful limited editions of varying sizes, and served as an inexpensive means of alerting the public to the workshops’ output.

Kokoschka had burst into the Viennese public imagination, when he was offered the opportunity to exhibit at the Kunstschau 1908, an enormous arts and crafts exhibition held to mark the 60th year of Emperor Franz Joseph I’s reign. In stark contrast to the bucolic, albeit unsettling, imagery of his book of fairy tales, entitled Die träumenden Knaben (The Dreaming Youths) (1908) , comparable in style to this postcard, the work Kokoschka exhibited alongside it at the Kunstschau, which included illustrations for his gory drama, Mörder Hoffnung der Frauen (Murder, Hope of Women) and a skull-like portrait head, elicited an enormous scandal and propelled him to the notoriety that launched his career.

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Day 16

Emil Orlik, Ein Windstoß (A Gust of Wind), coloured woodcut, 33.2 x 23.7 cm, 1901

Born in Prague, the painter, photographer and printmaker, Emil Orlik first visited Japan in 1900 with a view to learning the Japanese woodblock printing technique from the masters of the craft, and to attempt to immerse himself in what he believed to be the authentic life of the country. He was one of the first European artists to undertake such a journey to Japan. Despite his wish to escape the confines of Western civilisation, he could not avoid viewing what he experienced through the Orientalising lens of his day, and he admitted to being disappointed that what he found did not match with the European fantasy of the country. Whilst there, he produced work in various media, and, significantly, also amassed a collection of Japanese art, including many woodblock or ukiyo-e prints (Japanese for ‘pictures of the floating world’). He would later be seen as an expert in the field, lecturing on the topic on his return.

Since the 1860s, Japonisme, the trend for assimilating elements of Japanese design into European art, had been all the rage. Some twenty years later, the Parisian art dealer, Samuel Bing, published the highly influential magazine on Japanese art, Le Japon artistique, and exhibited original Japanese artworks at his gallery, the Maison de l’Art Nouveau. Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Édouard Manet and the French Impressionists, as well as the American painter, James McNeil Whistler, all collected ukiyo-e prints, amongst them works by prominent Japanese printmakers, such as Utamaro, Hiroshige and Hokusai. Of particular importance to European artists were the stylistic elements found in Japanese woodblock prints – a flatness of image, a striking use of colour, and a marked stylisation of realist subject matter. The lack of the one-point perspective typical of European art, and the elegance of line in these prints were equally influential.

In Japan, the production of such prints was traditionally not solely the preserve of the artist involved. He would produce the design in brush and ink, and it would then be passed to the block cutter to be carved into a woodblock. Once complete, a specialist printer would apply ink to the block, carefully place laid, sized paper onto it, and then rub over the reverse of the paper with a pad, made of bamboo. Fascinated by the process, Orlik would later produce a series of three prints depicting this division of labour.

However, although Orlik had travelled to Japan specifically to learn the woodblock print technique, he executed only 20 prints using this process. Instead, on his return, having absorbed the stylistic elements seen in such prints, he went on to produce highly regarded, skilful colour lithographs and woodcuts, such as Ein Windstoß. He would also notably incorporate what he had learnt of the traditional Japanese Noh and Kabuki forms of theatre in his later work as a designer of costumes, stage sets, and posters.

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Day 17

Elizabeth Catlett, Mother and Child, lithograph, image size: 19.7 × 14.6 cm, sheet size: 31.4 × 23.8 cm, 1944, coll. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Elizabeth Catlett produced many prints during her long career as a sculptor, printmaker and teacher. Following graduate study at the University of Iowa, where she was awarded a Masters in Fine Art as the first African-American woman to gain such a degree, she left for New York to study lithography at the Art Students League. Mother and Child was executed during her stay in the city, at a time when she was receiving private instruction from Ossip Zadkine, a Russian-born émigré to the USA and famous School of Paris sculptor and printmaker. He encouraged her to move in the direction of abstraction in her otherwise figurative work.

Catlett repeatedly turned to the subject of maternal love both in her sculpture and prints. Despite the obvious religious associations of the theme, she stated that it had a more secular meaning for her as a black woman. Her summary of her intentions for her sculpture could equally apply to the evident sculptural qualities of her lithograph, Mother and Child,

‘I reflect the body and facial forms of African-American people because I want to show the physical forms. I would say at the same time they are expressing such qualities as dignity, strength, tenderness, love, and so forth. If I do a sculpture of a mother and child, I try to give a sense to all black mothers and their children; I want them to feel a sense of dignity in their accomplishment. . . . I also use abstract qualities within the figurative to strengthen my intention. My intention is to create a work of sculpture which has empathy or a relation to our lives so that they have an aesthetic experience.’

Two years after executing this print, Catlett moved to Mexico on a Rosenwald Foundation grant, where she produced a series of 15 linocuts at the Taller de Gráfica Popular (People’s Graphic Arts Workshop), entitled Negro Women (later known as The Black Woman), a revolutionary critique of the USA’s history of racism and a memorial to the oppression, political struggle and achievements of African-American women.

Catlett received many awards during her career. Both Carnegie Mellon and Pace universities awarded her honorary doctorates. She was also granted a Legends and Legacy Award by the Art Institute of Chicago, as well as a Lifetime Achievement Award for contemporary sculpture by the International Sculpture Center.

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Day 18

Moissey Kogan, Zwei Tänzende (Two Dancers), woodcut, 33 x 22.5 cm, published in Die Schaffenden, III, portfolio 4, Verlag Gustav Kiepenheuer, Weimar, 1922

Dance iconography was a central element in Moissey Kogan’s sculpture and printmaking. He often depicted portrayals of performance, although, as frequently, his work suggests a more subtle motion or rhythm, such as in his woodcut, Zwei Tänzende.

In Expressionist dance circles of the 1920s and earlier, rhythmic gymnastics and Ausdruckstanz (Expressionist dance) were considered to be the epitome of the societal reformist endeavours that had enjoyed widespread currency in Europe since before the turn of the century. In common with many other artists of his day, Kogan was entranced by these new developments in dance.

Prior to the First World War, Kogan had been living in Paris, where he would have been very aware of, and may have attended, performances by the famous Ballets Russes. He would certainly have seen fellow sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle’s sculptural reliefs for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, which depicted the ‘barefoot dancer’ Isadora Duncan, a close acquaintance of Kogan’s, dancing with Russian ballet star, Nijinsky.

After the war, Kogan settled for some time in Switzerland, where in Ascona, on the banks of Lago Maggiore, he discovered the Expressionist dance of Charlotte Bara. Ascona was the meeting point of many avant-garde artists and performers of the day, and it was there that Bara performed at the Teatro San Maderno, which her father had built for her. Her dance was based variously on Javanese religious dance, Ancient Egyptian sources and Gothic imagery. Kogan, a Theosophist, was equally fascinated in ancient and non-European art, seeing them as sources of the most authentic cultic expression of humankind. He said of Bara,

‘Charlotte Bara is a true priestess and guardian of art. She is not from the world of music hall, she has come to give form to our yearnings. [. . .] she is the most holy and profound thing I have ever encountered.’

Kogan’s woodcut, which depicts Bara’s Expressionist dance, was chosen for inclusion in portfolio 4, 1922, of an art journal in portfolio form, Die Schaffenden (The Creators). Edited by German art historian and critic, Paul Westheim, and published by Gustav Kiepenheuer, Weimar, the journal, which was published four times a year, included ten signed prints by young avant-garde artists, each bearing a blind stamp with the name of the journal, presented as a portfolio.

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Day 19

Louise Bourgeois, Around We Go, panel a) soft ground etching, with red pencil, gray gouache, and pencil additions, panel b) soft ground etching, with red ink, red pencil, and pencil additions, panel c) soft ground etching, with black pencil additions, on smooth, wove paper, mounted on smooth, wove board, plate size (a and c): 25 × 18.9 cm, (b): 25 × 21.4 cm; sheet size: 42.1 × 73.3 cm, only state, 2004, published by Osiris, New York, printed Wingate Studio, New Hampshire

Louise Bourgeois frequently returned throughout her career to the motif of the spiral, employing it in many of the media in which she worked. She often used it to represent the cyclical repetition of birth, life and renewal again, on occasion in connection with the mother-child relationship.
The spiral also at times held a darker significance for the artist, as she stated in 2010,

‘The spiral is important to me. It is a twist. As a child, after washing tapestries in the river, I would turn and twist and ring them . . . Later I would dream of my father’s mistress. I would do it in my dreams by ringing her neck. The spiral – I love the spiral – represents control and freedom.’

In an earlier interview, she had clarified,

‘[The spiral] is an attempt at controlling the chaos. It has two directions. Where do you place yourself, at the periphery or at the vortex? . . . [It is both] the fear of losing control . . . and the giving up control; of trust, positive energy, of life itself.’

The apparent free-flowing form of the spiral contrasts with the grid-like marshalling of the three separate images that go to make up Around We Go. Bourgeois would take the grid further the following year in a larger work featuring 12 oil-based woodcut prints, framed together in three rows of four images, as well as other works of sculpture, painting and drawing.

Bourgeois made hand additions in pencil to each of the impressions of this print grid. Working in close collaboration with publisher, Benjamin Schiff, director of Osiris, who would spend hours in the artist’s studio to aid her, she would consider each impression within an edition as a study in its own right.

Bourgeois returned to printmaking in the late 1980s after a break of some 40 years, when she focused more on sculpture, continuing until her death in 2010. In the late 1930s, when she was training at the Arts Student League, her printmaking had been focused on relief techniques. She later worked at Atelier 17, where she took up etching, the technique used for Around We Go, which she much preferred.

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Day 20

Gertrud Hermes, Mistletoe, wood engraving on laid paper, image size: 22.9 × 13.4 cm, sheet size: 40.9 x 26.7 cm, 1930, published in an edition of 30, collection Tate Britain © Estate of Gertrude Hermes

In 1929, Gertrude Hermes was commissioned to produce 20 wood engravings to illustrate Irene Gosse’s book, A Florilege Chosen from the Old Herbals. Published by the Swan Press, London in 1931, Gosse’s compendium was printed in an edition of 150, with a further later edition of 250 published in 1981 to accompany an exhibition of Hermes’s work at the Royal Academy London. Of the 20 wood engavings by Hermes for the book, Mistletoe was plate XV; other images included Anemone, Windflower or Rose Persely, Butter Hyorchis or Standelwurt, Dwale or Deadly Nightshade, and Henbane. Hermes also provided illustrations for earlier publications, including John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (1928), and T. S. Eliot, Animula (1929).

A wood engraving differs from a woodcut in that the line is incised into the woodblock, rather than the ground being cut away to leave a line in relief. The wood engraver will typically execute an image on the end grain of a block of hard wood, such as boxwood, thus permitting extremely fine detail in the image.

Hermes was one of the most highly accomplished British printmakers of her generation. She was instrumental in the revival of wood engraving. A member of the English Wood Engraving Society, in the 1930s she exhibited with the Society of Wood Engravers, The London Group, and at the Royal Academy.

During her lifetime, Hermes was primarily known for her sculpture. Avant-garde in stylistic terms, her work remained rooted in the natural world. She exhibited in Paris and Venice, before moving to Canada for the duration of the war. She taught at Camberwell College of Arts and St Martin’s School of Art, London, as well as later at the Central School of Art and Design, and the Royal Academy Schools.

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Day 21

Barbara Hepworth, High Tide, screenprint on paper, one of a portfolio of 12 prints, entitled Opposing Forms, image size: 56.2 x 76.7 cm, sheet size: 58.8 x 77.7 cm, 1970, printed by Kelpra Studio, published by Marlborough Fine Art, London

In 1970, in collaboration with Kelpra Studio and the gallery, Marlborough Fine Art, London, Barbara Hepworth produced a portfolio of 12 screenprints, entitled Opposing Forms. For High Tide, one of the prints offered as part of the suite, Hepworth chose to depict a full moon at high tide over an expanse of sea, perhaps as seen through a rock formation standing in the Cornish landscape, where she had made her home. The framing device equally recalls her own sculpture, which drew powerfully on that same landscape, sculpture that centred around the negative space encompassed by her abstract forms.

Hepworth described herself on one occasion as a ‘pagan at heart’ and was awarded the title of Bard of Cornwall for her fostering of the Cornish Celtic spirit. Published in an edition of 60 plus 12 AP (artist’s proofs), the prints in Opposing Forms reveal Hepworth’s interest in the juxtaposition of contrasting natural forms, and take as their subject matter abstract representations of celestial bodies, the winter solstice, and, as in High Tide, the movement of tidal water.

Hepworth also produced two sets of lithographs with the Curwen Press, London, including The Aegean Suite in 1971, a series of prints, in which she depicted Ancient Greek sites making use of her geometric formal language. She would later explain that her printmaking experiments with bold mark-making and a transparent use of abstract form were a prelude to subsequent sculptural work.

In chapter 1 of her book of 1952, Barbara Hepworth: Carvings and Drawings, entitled, ‘The excitement of discovering the nature of carving, 1903-1930’, she stated,

‘There is an inside and an outside to every form. When they are in special accord, as for instance a nut in its shell or a child in the womb, or in the structure of shells or crystals, or when one senses the architecture of bones in the human figure, then I am most drawn to the effect of light. Every shadow cast by the sun from an ever-varying angle reveals the harmony of the inside to outside. Light gives full play to our tactile perceptions through the experience of our eyes, and the vitality of forms is revealed by the interplay between space and volume.’

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Day 22

Pablo Picasso, Les Danseurs au Hibou (Dancers with an Owl), colour linocut, image size: 64.1 cm x 53.3 cm, sheet size: 81.2 cm x 90.8 cm, 1959, from the edition of 50; printed by Arnéra, Vallauris; published by Galerie Louise Leiris, Paris

From 1947 until 1955, until he moved to nearby Cannes, Picasso was based in the small town of Vallauris, in Southern France. He had chosen to settle there to be near to the Madoura workshop, a ceramics studio, where he would execute his first experiments in that medium, producing utilitarian items, which he decorated with his signature designs.

Whilst in Vallauris, he was invited to design a number of posters for local events, such as bullfights and exhibitions. The young printer with whom he worked, Hidalgo Arnéra, asked the artist to make designs and transfer them to linocut blocks, and he would then take care of the printing process. Fascinated by the potential of the medium, Picasso started to experiment with the idea of producing more complex, multi-coloured images. He would cut eight different blocks, one for each colour to be used, which was then the standard process for working in linocut.

One of the artist’s more ambitious projects at the time was a reworked version of a portrait of a woman by Lucas Cranach the Younger. As a consequence of the difficulties he and the printer experienced with aligning the various colours during the printing process, Picasso decided to adopt what is known as the ‘reduction’ method, that is to progressively cut the same block, applying different layers of ink to the resultant print, as the linoleum is cut away in stages.

There is some dispute as to whether Picasso originated this more complex method of working in linocut. Whilst the artist may not have known of other experiments being undertaken elsewhere at the time, such as by Blair Hughes Stanton in the UK, as mentioned in the entry for Day 9 of this Advent Calendar (Hughes Stanton’s daughter referred to them as his ‘elimination linocuts’), one must be wary of the mythologising that happens around the work of certain major artists. Indeed, it may have been Arnéra himself, the master of the medium, who introduced Picasso to the concept of layering a linocut image in this manner. Nonetheless, what is now termed the ‘reduction technique’ became Picasso’s favoured method of working and he developed it with great skill and flair.

By the time Les Danseurs au Hibou was produced, Picasso had moved to La Californie, a villa in Cannes. The collaboration with Arnéra continued as before. The printer described their manner of working together,

‘Picasso worked at night; in the morning, Marcel the chauffeur brought what he had completed to the print shop with notes added by Jacqueline Roque [Picasso’s then wife]. I pulled the proofs and returned them to La Californie at exactly 1:30. This regular rhythm of working continued for eight years, every day, except Saturday and Sunday.’

Arnéra would have printed the proofs for Les Danseurs au Hibou on his large commercial press in Vallauris. The resultant edition of 50 was then forwarded to the artist’s dealer in Paris, Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, and sold via his gallery, the Galerie Louise Leiris.

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Day 23

Lygia Pape, Tecelar (Weaving), woodcut in black ink on fine paper, sheet size: 45 × 33 cm, 1957, collection of Tate Gallery © Projeto Lygia Pape

Lygia Pape, one of the most important Brazilian artists of the 20th century, was a filmmaker, sculptor, engraver and designer. She was associated with the Neo-Concrete group, an offshoot of Brazilian Concretism, whose members sought to introduce more lyricism, sensuality and colour into the work of the movement. Together with Sergio de Camargo, Amílcar del Castro and Lygia Clark, amongst others, she formulated the Neo-Concrete manifesto, published in 1959.

Already one can see Pape’s Neo-Concretist preoccupations at play in Tecelar, one of a series of images, entitled Tecelares (Weavings). Consisting of a number of overlapping geometrical forms made up of horizontal lines, echoing the grain of the wood block from which the woodcut was made, Tecelar appears to tessellate, prefiguring Op Art.  Its forms are suggestive of interconnection in its superimposed layers and glancing intersections of form.

Pape produced the Tecelares series at a time when she was involved with the Grupo Frente in Rio de Janeiro between 1955 and 1958. Concrete art was a form of abstraction driven by formal geometry with no reference to the natural world. Neo-Concretism, on the other hand, drew its iconography from organic elements in nature, and, as here, from human activity, ‘participative art’ as it was termed. Tecelar achieves its optical effects in part by mimicking the uneven lines of woven fabric. Pape applied the ink to her wood block in an irregular manner, with the result that some lines appear more distinct, and seem to be closer to eye of the viewer, than others. Thus the presence of Pape as maker of the object is reinforced and not negated as it was in Concrete Art’s attempt to find a universal visual language based on reason, in which the idiosyncracies of the artist and any form of symbolism were downplayed.

The artist explained the thinking behind the Tecelar suite of woodcuts as follows,

‘I now had a black surface, of inked wood, full of small white incisions (the pores [grain] of the wood) and my knife bared the white space; firstly threads and surfaces that grew slowly, against the very system of xylography [woodcut or wood engraving], where the white was discreet and almost always indicated the limit or profile of the image or figure. What interested me was to open bigger and bigger spaces (the white) to reach the ultimate limit of expression through a minimum of elements. An almost entirely white surface (the very negation of xylo) and black threads vibrating due to the quality itself of the wood pores.’ From an interview with Pape of 1987, as cited in Studio International, 3 February 2012

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Day 24

André Derain, Videgrain, one of 179 woodcuts, hand-coloured à la poupée, as illustrations for François Rabelais, Les Horribles et espovantables faictz et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel, roy des Dipsodes, fils du grand géant Gargantua (The Horrible and Terrifying Deeds and Words of the Very Renowned Pantagruel King of the Dipsodes, Son of the Great Giant Gargantua), published Éditions Albert Skira, Paris, printed Atelier Lacourière, Paris, in an edition of 250, plus suite of prints, on vélin de Rives, book size: 34.9 x 28.6 x 4.1 cm, suite of prints hors texte – sheet size: 34.3 x 27.9 cm, 1943

This woodcut, Videgrain, by the former Fauve artist, André Derain, served as the frontispiece for a new edition of François Rabelais’s 16th-century book, entitled Les Horribles et espovantables faictz et prouesses du très renommé Pantagruel, roy des Dipsodes, fils du grand géant Gargantua, commissioned by the Swiss-French publisher, Albert Skira.

One of the 179 woodcuts that Derain produced for the publication, it represents Videgrain, the great grandfather of Pantagruel, who is only mentioned once in Rabelais’s text. The series of woodcuts were each printed from a single block, which was hand-coloured using an historical process known as à la poupée, whereby different coloured inks are applied to separate elements of the cut design using spherical wads of cloth before being printed simultaneously. This technique was so labour intensive and demanding that it took two years to print the edition of 250, plus twenty five impressions of each print hors texte. Derain worked closely with the master printer, Roger Lacourière, to achieve this mammoth undertaking.

The subject matter of Rabelais’s chronicle of 1532, which relayed the violent, vulgar, and scatological escapades of the giants, Gargantua and Pantagruel, inspired Derain to return to the vivid colours of his earlier Fauvist work and to adopt a bold, cartoon-like style drawn variously from popular 19th-century chapbooks, early tarot card designs, and Medieval imagery.

When the art publisher, Skira, offered Derain the commission to work on Pantagruel he had accepted immediately. Earlier in his career, adopting a flat, simplified use of line informed by African carvings and the work of Paul Gauguin, he had produced black-and-white illustrations for several artists’ books, including Guillaume Apollinaire’s prose poem, L’Enchanteur pourrissant, 1909, and, in a more Medievalising style, Max Jacob’s Les oeuvres burlesques et mystiques de frère Matorel, mort au couvent, 1912.

In late October 1940, Derain had returned to his home in Chambourcy to discover that the house had been turned upside down and had been requisitioned by the occupying Nazi army, who suspected him of being a Jew and were threatening to shoot him. Over the course of the war, the German troops damaged the property extensively and destroyed a great deal of his work. He was interrogated and regularly visited by the Gestapo. The woodblocks, tools and the paper required to produce the then half-finished Pantagruel project remained in the house, until he was eventually able to retrieve them with considerable difficulty. Despite everything, he managed to complete the commission to execute the commission for Skira, and the resultant artist’s book was published in 1943.

 

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