Sunday, July 17, 2016

It's Not an Illusion

Willow Flycatcher in Swamp Dogwood. Two block Reduction Woodcut by Ken Januski.

As I look through my older prints, as well as my other work and the work of others that I admire, I often think about whether or not I want to create an illusion of reality, or maybe even just the illusion of a photograph, since many people think that reality and photography are the same. I've done work that is more illusionistic, though it rarely looks like a photo. And I can often admire such work, both by contemporary artists and older ones.

But I've pretty much decided that this is not the route I want to take. If I were more of a plein aire painter I would perhaps think differently. In that case the illusion I might try to create might be more in reaction to what is right in front of me and actually all around me, not just to the flat surface of a photo. But though I do field sketches I don't work plein aire. When I do my work from photos my skin starts getting prickly, as though I'm allergic to it.

So for me I've come to think that I'm best off working somewhat in the manner of this newest, two-block reduction woodcut. It is representational but it is not illusionistic. Just the color block by itself, before being overprinted by the black block and all its lines, looked somewhat illusionistic, more like a painting, and was appealing to me. I felt that to a certain extent I'd captured the diffuse light. But it wasn't the way I wanted to go. So I added the last black block, just as I'd intended to all along. I think this has created a more graphic, almost iconic image. That's neither good nor bad. But it seems to be the way that I want to go and the way that seems most fruitful to me. I suppose it is that impulse that also convinced me to change my cover photo recently to the woodblock print of a Gray Catbird guarding his walnuts. And just yesterday I saw another Gray Catbird in the middle of the road, seemingly as imperious as could be, daring a car to come near him. That reminded me of one of the reasons that I like my Gray Catbird woodblocks. I believe that they capture, from at least one perspective, the experience of seeing a Gray Catbird.

Illusion can be great but sometimes you just feel like something different.

This woodcut by the way probably took longer than any print I've ever done, even the 9-10 color reduction linocut of the Blackburnian Warbler at Magee Marsh. It wasn't really that complicated. But I felt like I needed to keep proofing different colors until I got the ones I wanted. And then I spent a week or two figuring out how to get a final black that printed full and rich and not splotchy. It's at moments like that that I wonder why in the world I ever got involved with such a technical medium!

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