06 November 2007

It's About Time

Back in the 1980s when I was first learning to use the computer to draw (Adobe Illustrator Version 1.0), I would lie down at night after a long day on the machine with strange visions of manipulating time and space as I fell asleep. I would see the world before me begin to get larger and larger, as when zooming in on the computer screen, or I would watch as an imaginary scene would dissolve into overlapping colored shapes. It was as if my mind was continuing to explore the mesmerizing new world that had been opened to it even as I slept.

Twenty years later we've all seemingly become accustomed to the mesmerizing world inside the screen-window, but I don't believe it's any less mesmerizing than it was back then. I can still "lose" hours at a time while pursuing a topic on the internet, or futzing around with a thorny software problem, and I still have trouble talking on the telephone if I'm sitting in front of a computer screen. And I see myself more and more expecting immediacy -- expecting to find anything I'm looking for, expecting that anything I purchase online will be delivered next day, expecting immediate responses to my emails, expecting immediate feedback to almost every action I take.

Which is why woodblock is so challenging for me. I can hardly think of a more labor-intensive, grueling technique for making a picture. Unlike digital picture-making, where the feedback is immediate and any action can be un-done, a polychrome woodblock print can take many weeks to accomplish, and the unforgiving marks made by a knife on wood are indelible. The contrast is stark.

German artist Christiane Baumgartner makes large scale woodblock prints that explicitly examine this contrast. She takes video stills as her source material, tiny micro-second slices of time, and painstakingly reproduces them in wood, carving horizontal lines of varying widths into birch plywood -- "an irreversible deceleration process," as critic Roy Oxley notes. I love this stuff!


mark phelan said...

that's really cool work. i love finding out about the work of people i've never heard of.

Celia Hart said...

That's just extraordinary! Thank you for showing us these - I need to find out more.

Like you I started using Adobe Illustrator Version 1.0 in the early 80s. The studio I worked in had one of the first Apple Macs - you know that one like a box with an integral screen and a 30MB hard drive - WOW!) We took it in turns to do a portrait of one of our colleagues and put them on the noticeboard to impress the editors :)

I love cutting blocks - there's no "command z" - it's a different kind of concentration.


Karen Jacobs said...

In another life I will carve and print woodblocks. I know my knuckles won't let me this time round... but I can enjoy the process and work of others... very interesting introduction!

Annie B said...

Glad you liked seeing this work, General Gow. Thanks for saying so.

Celia, so many parallels in our similar journeys on different continents!

kj, I hear you about the knuckles. I wish I had found woodblock when I was younger. Oh well, we all do our best with what we've got.

Martha Marshall said...

Annie, I'm so glad I found you on KJ's blog.

These prints are amazing to look at in their own right, but even more so, knowing the incredible focus and dedication that goes into creating them.

Karen Jacobs said...

And here I am pointing to my accidental discoveries and trying to call them framable art... but can no way compare to the intensity that goes into this medium.

Annie B said...

Nice to meet you, Martha.
In addition to the sheer physical effort that goes into making woodcuts of this scale, what amazes me (looking at this work plus the various pieces in the previous post) is just how much variety can be achieved using the "simple" technique of relief printing.