Intaglio and relief print­ing are two com­plete oppos­ites in my prac­tice. I greatly admire those who man­age to con­vey tex­tures in a wood­cut (e.g. sheets like this by Klaus Magnus: Berlin façade, 1973), but so far I fail to go very far bey­ond out­lines. This lim­it­a­tion makes my relief prints the by far most con­cep­tu­al of all my works. There’s rel­at­ively few: partly because the ideas I have revolve around con­cepts for which I haven’t yet found the fit­ting motive; partly because it’s such a damn lot of (phys­ic­al) work.

cuts-borghorst Cuts

It all star­ted with the Landmarks of Borghorst, 2015. It’s not more than an exper­i­ment of how to do dif­fer­ent tex­tures – hence three spe­cies of clouds, and four of trees. If I recall cor­rectly I used an antedi­lu­vi­an pen knife for most of it. Seemingly small tasks like the cent­ral tree were a bloody chore. Well, everything was. I prin­ted them pla­cing paper and plate on the floor and walk­ing around on top. Seeing the sheets dry­ing, cov­er­ing the entire floor, almost made me feel high.

I went on to do a second plate – this time a real pic­ture. The idea was to use a bur­in to punch v’s into the wood, cre­at­ing a scale-like pat­tern. So it needed to be some­thing ser­pent­ine … I had the right idea at the time, but abso­lutely lacked the skills to execute it. So for more than two years that plate with a few scales lay around my desk, some­times serving as a sau­cer, till I had got into paint­ing and wondered wheth­er to do some­thing funny with oils on the reverse. No, I decided, and fin­ished the wood­cut instead. It’s The Many (per­haps: hoi polloi) – typ­ic­al per­haps for what I mean with a “con­cep­tu­al qual­ity”, as the whole image came to be for the abstract scale pat­tern alone rather than the hardly heart­felt con­tent.

cuts-hoi-polloi Cuts

More exem­plary for what I see in wood- and linocuts today are two series centered around a sim­il­ar premise: Kosmos, late 2016, and The Fat and the Slim Gardener (orig. Der breite und der sch­male Gärtner). These are reduc­tion prints, i.e. carved out of a single plate (skip this para­graph if you’re famil­i­ar with the pro­cess, go ahead oth­er­wise). Usually one would use that pro­cess to print the same image in mul­tiple col­ours with rel­at­ively little effort (avoid­ing the work and prob­lems you’d have with one dis­tinct plate for each col­our). Meanwhile, I was intrigued with the pos­sib­il­ity of using the same pro­cess to print a series of com­pletely inde­pend­ent pic­tures. The catch is that while you can always add white areas (print­ing a freshly bought, untreated plate would just yield a pitch-black sheet) it’s impossible to remove them, and so each state of the plate has to carry the leg­acy of its pre­de­cessor. The black­est plate is always the first, the whitest the last.

Kosmos is a linocut of four states. I prefer to present them in the reverse order. If you go from one to anoth­er slowly you may try guess­ing which form might change how in each step.

Look at the tree between states III and II – did I say you could only turn black into white, not the oth­er way round? Well, it’s true. Instead, I moved the entire tree a bit to the left, and that’s why there are gaps in the branches in the IIIrd state.

The Gardeners fol­low exactly the same premise in three states, except that I added a con­cord­ance as a fourth sheet with the pre­vi­ous three instances layered on top of one anoth­er. While Kosmos had some “filler” states and one that’s rel­at­ively out­stand­ing, the qual­ity in the Gardeners is more con­sist­ent. On the oth­er hands, the fig­ures don’t inter­lock a great lot any­more. Likely more such series are going to fol­low, provided I chance upon the right sub­ject mat­ter.

Again, the concept over­rode the sub­ject mat­ter – all edgi­ness is unin­ten­ded; the grim reaper’s attend­ing the show simply because it seems such a simple and obi­ous effect to turn a man into a skel­et­on from one state to the next.

Generally, I like to call these (sort of) con­cep­tu­al prints “puzzles”. They come in more fla­vours than this one. One pro­ject of which I’ve got one plate and a half-fin­ished but which is at rest since some months will have some num­ber – say, six – motives that are com­pletely unre­lated to one anoth­er — but if you print the six on one sheet like in the Gardeners“ con­cord­ance, a sev­enth emerges. No pic­tures here as long as it’s a work so early in pro­gress.

Another fla­vour are the fol­low­ing Four Pictures from the Same Four Plates.

Four small lino­leum frag­ments arranged in dif­fer­ent lay­outs return dif­fer­ent fig­ures – to get an idea of how to do this I painted some out­lines on paper scraps and moved them around while munch­ing space cook­ies. Here I believe I’m still going to take a very long time before com­ing up with a more suited sub­ject mat­ter, this stuff I found really hard to come up with. Hence the sub-par imagery.

Lastly some­thing I’m far prouder of: A por­trait of a friend who has kindly sup­plied me with a life­time stash of alu­mini­um and zinc plates for etch­ing. If I can find will­ing sit­ters I’m going to make many more of this kind, with dif­fer­ent back­grounds, not neces­sar­ily this har­lekinesque one.

cuts-stefan-1 CutsIt was around that time that I dabbled in marb­ling, and serendip­it­ously dis­covered that with water (or bet­ter, since it takes longer to dry: gum arab­ic solu­tion) you can reserve areas that won’t be marbled. The E.A. sheets thus joined wood­cut and marb­ling, deliv­er­ing unex­pec­ted but won­der­ful res­ults such as this, where for some inscrut­able reas­on only the edges stayed reserved:

cuts-stefan-2 Cuts

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