Thursday, November 13, 2014

A New Woodcut and Surprising Influences

American Goldfinch on Thistle. Early State of Multi-block Woodcut by Ken Januski.

Whenever I resume printmaking there's a sense of excitement and possibility, as though I'm finally getting back to what I really should be doing. Since I've been involved with art for 40 years though and with printmaking less than 10 this is a bit surprising. Still it seems to be true. I do find much to like in printmaking, if you ignore of course all the technical problems that it is always throwing up.

A few months ago I did a watercolor sketch of an American Goldfinch vigorously tearing apart a thistle. I first did some field sketches and used those and some photos I took as the basis of the watercolor.

As so often happens these watercolor sketches eventually become prints. Who knows why this procedure seems to be comfortable and work well for me?

What struck me about the American Goldfinch when I saw it was the very vigorous pose. I couldn't help but notice the force that was shown in the legs as they gripped the flower tenaciously.

Perhaps because of all the years I spent doing figure drawing from life, and perhaps for a million other reasons, I've always liked work that shows the gesture of things. I've always been this way no matter how deep I might have been in abstract art.

And that's one thing I found that I really liked about wildlife artist Bob Kuhn when I first started looking at his work about two years ago. I've never been very fond of wildlife art, especially the big game type that Kuhn often did. What I discovered though was that what I didn't like was the clich├ęd big game art, not the portrayal of big game itself. Good wildlife art, as Kuhn's was, really appreciates the subject portrayed and tries to do it justice.

What was even more surprising in reading about Kuhn though and in looking at his work in reproduction is how aware he was of contemporary art. Most surprising was his use of contemporary art influences, most obviously painter Mark Rothko, in his work. He combined, quite successfully, abstraction and vigorous, realistic action.

That's the surprising influence I refer to in my title. His example always reminds me that it is possible to combine realism and abstraction in art. And he remains a surprising influence on my own work. Off the top of my head I can only think of one other such person: Jean-Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, the 18th century French still life painter. I don't think his work has ever knowingly influenced my work but I don't think I'll ever be able to un-digest as it were the quirt simplicity and beauty of his paintings. I'm sure that this is true for most artists. At least I hope so.

The woodcut above includes, at the moment, both sides of a piece of Shina plywood. On one side I'm carving the black areas, and on the others the colored areas, most likely, yellow, pink, perhaps a green and perhaps a blue. My current plans are to print the color as abstract shapes, as in some other recent prints, and print the black last on top of that. But I never know. Once a print is started it, and not me, dictates what happens next.

I wrote recently of being contemporary in your art. I think more than anything else it's the sense of improvisation that seems most contemporary in my work. This is not really good or bad, nor even planned or unplanned. It's just the way I prefer to work.  I can't say why.


Mike Woodcock said...

Not sure that print needs anything more Ken, it stands just as it is if you ask me.

Ken Januski said...

Thanks Mike,

I do like it as is. But I often find that when I first start a print and the black background unifies everything that I like the print. I suppose one day I'll just stop at that point. But for now I picture a much lighter background. Who knows of course if that's what I'll actually get.

P.S. I do hope you greatly enjoyed seeing your work hanging at SWLA's The Natural Eye. I wish I could have been there, on the wall and in person!