Some readers may remember last summer's exploratory series of drawings and paintings of the Montmorency waterfall near Quebec City, where I did this charcoal drawing:
I've had an abstract drawing from that series on my studio wall all year, and this week I went back it as the basis for another relief print. At the top of the post is the block being cut. Here's the back of the print, after a first pass with the round baren, with half the print fully transferred to the rice paper using the back of a wooden spoon.
And here's a finished print from an edition of seven. I like this better than all the paintings I did last year, though I'm still fond of several of the drawings.
When I was younger, I seldom worked this way, delving deep into a subject until it is really internalized. Each piece was kind of a one-off - I'd be inspired by something, do a painting of it, seldom even sketching it first, and that was that. Though working that way can be wonderful, it's an entirely different way of approaching art.
Reading the letters and biographies of artists, as well as studying their work (the recent show of Picasso's guitars at MoMA is a good example) made me want to do more of this "horizontal" exploration, making sketches, playing with different media, trying to see deeply into the essence of a particular subject and my own response to it - what is it that I find compelling? Form? Line? Rhythm? Color? What's my emotional reaction? What can I do with the subject to make it my own? Picasso's inventiveness and refusal to stay in one category or style is an inspiration to me. Gauguin's woodcuts and transfer drawings, which I was looking at this week too, couldn't be more different in mood than Picasso's drawings, prints, and ceramics, but I saw, now, how complementary they are to his paintings; you can see Gauguin working on the subjects, going deeper into their emotional impact and his own psyche. Over in Wales, Clive Hicks-Jenkins returns again and again to his St. Kevin, holding the blackbird's nest, and to the blind saint Hervé, and his wolf, and there's a strong sense that he, too, is looking within.
There's something extremely exciting about moving in this direction, and realizing that a handful of subjects can provide such a rich ground for creative and personal exploration, not just for great artists but for me too, if I have the determination to stay with it over time. "It doesn't really matter what the subject is," a painter and teacher once told me. "You just have to be drunk with it."