The Wanderer, A Woodcut
I began this woodcut, my first, in early December. Block cutting, I soon discovered, is completely absorbing and meditative, pure joy. There’s also a negotiation with the wood. I try to do what I want and she says “No, another way” and so it goes. There’s a give and take. Along the way I am confronted with disappointing limitations in myself and in the materials, but I also encounter pleasant, unexpected surprises. The result is always different from what I had in mind at the start. It’s different but it’s better because it’s real and not just an idea or a fantasy. It’s something physical that you can hold and touch. It has a story and a journey captured in the object, the work of art.
I’m attracted to the woodcut for its physicality, material presence, and rich history. It is the oldest form of relief printing and was used from the start to communicate with the people. So it has a democratic, non-elitist origin, something which I respect a lot. Maybe you didn’t have the money to buy a painting or an illuminated manuscript, but you could buy a woodcut as a devotional image or just to decorate the home. I’m very fond of the ancient Chinese and Japanese woodcuts, they were the first and arguably the best. However, I most relate to those created in Europe at the beginning of the 15th century by the German woodblock cutters or “formschneider” working mostly in Germany and northern Italy. They lack the refinement which those of the later period have, but they have a raw, expressive power which I strongly identify with and usually prefer in art.
The Annunciation to The Shepherds
The piece started as a depiction of the biblical story “The Annunciation to the Shepherds.” When planning the drawing and composition, the only thing I knew I wanted was an angel planted firmly on the ground and engaging us directly while delivering her news.
The Star of Venus, Asteres Planetai
But later I found that it was also about the Morning Star. Throughout history she has been called by many names, such as Inanna, Ishtar, Venus, Hesperos, the divine feminine, the wanderer. The word planet comes from the Greek term planetes meaning “wanderer”. And in the ancient myths she is sometimes referred to as a wanderer as she descends to the underworld searching for her lover and ascends again to the heavens. It is said that her return brings a renewal of the life force and a restoration of balance and healing through faith in love. That’s basically what this piece is about for me, (re ) birth and renewal.
“Hesperos, bringing everything that shining Eos scattered, you bring the sheep, you bring the goat, you bring back the child to its mother.” Sappho
Working with wood reminds me of my great-grandfather, Bryant W. Armstrong. He often said, or so I’ve been told, that “If something is worth doing then it’s worth doing right.” He was a carpenter who built, among other things, houses, grandfather clocks, and even a church. He headed the B.W. Armstrong and Son building firm and was the foreman responsible for the construction of the present St. Bernard’s Catholic Church in Madison, Wisconsin where he was also a member. But to me his greatest creation is the family and love he and my great-grandmother, Elizabeth, built together which lives on through their offspring. The love we build will always be stronger than churches, monuments, paintings, clocks, woodcuts, or any other thing we humans make, “love abides” . My great-grandfather’s example inspires me and I try to live up to it. I hope he would approve of my efforts. I can’t say that I always do things right, but I do the best I can, and that’s all we can do.