Looking at reproductions of Gauguin’s woodcuts and wood sculptures, I was wondering about the relationship between the two. Gauguin frequently used almost the same subject in sculptures, woodcuts and paintings. His woodcuts are quite naieve looking, like folk art, acting as a reminder of the role of woodcutting as a cheap and simple means of publishing, and hence as a grass-roots medium of expression.

I decided that I would like to try some woodcuts again, to contrast their rough finish with the smooth cuts that results from using the kind of lino- substitute I have.

After experimenting in life drawing with the separation of solid form and line, I wondered if I could use woodcuts and chine colle or ink washes to explore something similar.

This print started as a 30 second sketch at life drawing- the model took up a squatting pose, which I drew blind, using brush and ink. I liked the pose as it seemed to suggest childbirth and earthiness, and to evoke pain. I thought it could suggest an elemental form of a woman and that it would be best expressed as a woodcut, with expressive lines cut roughly.

Thanks to Noah Waby for sharing the lovely work of the artist Jan Mankes, whose woodcut “Milking the Cow” uses expressive lines to show the close and sympathetic relationship between the milkmaid and the cow, and to evoke a sense of quiet.

In my small woodcut, I tried to contrast the outside and the inside of the shape with lines that oppress and those that define the figure. I wanted to suggest harsh acceptance and left a gaping mouth shape, suggesting a scream, a vagina, or a general conduit.

The print reminded me of Grace Nichol’s poem, which has a kind of ugly beauty:

Praise Song for My Mother

You were

water to me

deep and bold and fathoming

You were

moon’s eye to me

pull and grained and mantling

You were

the fishes red gill to me

the flame tree’s spread to me

the crab’s leg/ the fried plantain smell

                                    replenishing replenishing

Go to your wide futures, you said


Making this block felt like carving, not cutting, and I must say I enjoyed the process and felt more of an affinity with the wood than with the pieces of vinyl.

In the end I decided it didn’t need any colour, but was better in simple black on white paper.


2 thoughts on “Woodcut

  1. I think your gut responses to the material you’re working with is really, really important. I’m the opposite of you in that I now have very negative feelings about working in wood, having had to do more than I either enjoyed or was good at in the past (for practical purposes, not printmaking). In contrast, I’m loving lino – especially the decidedly down-market aspect of it as a material! I feel it really suits me. Given how strongly I’m feeling about this, I can imagine you feeling similarly about working in wood. And I think you’re right about Gauguin’s work in wood – both forms.

  2. You know I love this one from the hangout, just thought I’d say it here too. Also, lovely poem! Nice to see someone else relating visual art to other forms of art. I’m always throwing in references to music and even reproduced some Stephane Mallarmé poems for my Odilon Redon research. I find it helps.

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