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.
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.
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.
It 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: