“Studio with Rocking Chair”, A Woodcut
This woodcut depicts my studio where I live in Barcelona, Spain. This is a place where I spend a lot of time working, making things, thinking, daydreaming. The output of my production has been mainly painting and drawing, so printmaking is relatively new to me. This is my second woodcut. I made my first one two years ago, in 2015. Block cutting is completely absorbing and meditative, pure joy. There’s 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 woodblock printing 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 large numbers of people. In that sense, it has a democratic, non-elitist origin. I imagine it as an early ancestor to the internet. And then there were the aesthetic benefits. 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 potency which I strongly identify with and usually prefer in art.
Working with Wood
I feel a powerful connection to the wood while working with it. I don’t understand this completely, but while cutting the block certain people are called to mind.
I remember my great-grandfather Bryant W. Armstrong. He was an orphan who had a difficult start, but made a good life for himself and his family. He became 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.
I remember my late brother, David. He had his heart set on becoming a carpenter and was about to begin an apprenticeship program before his death in 1998, aged twenty-two.
Finally, I think of my Dad and his Dad, my Granddad. I remember the trips we would make in late autumn to his parents’ farm on the edge of town to help my granddad search for firewood. There we would go, my dad, granddad, sometimes my brother, and I, to the woods nearby to cut down the dead trees. The whine of the chainsaw and the echo it made, the smell of the freshly cut timber as we stacked it neatly in the back of the pickup truck. The talk and the jokes between my dad and granddad, punctuating the work and moments of silence. All this remains vivid and present inside of me.
They are all with me while I work with the wood. Through concentrated work and my full attention to what is occurring internally and externally, I try to honor them.
Physical objects, such as a block of pinewood, can sometimes evoke thoughts and memories of people and things from the past. When we are quiet, at work or at rest, these memories are given the space to resurface, returning once again to visit us. In this way those whom we think have left us, we may discover, had been with us all along. This all happens in my studio. To me, it’s more than just a workshop. It’s a sacred space which connects the past to the present. It’s a place where I can go and make things and keep something (or somebody) alive for myself in the process. That’s why I feel the need to depict this place in my work. I think of all the things I make as forms of praise, “works of love”.
“When one has once fully entered the realm of love, the world — no matter how imperfect — becomes rich and beautiful, it consists solely of opportunities for love.”
This woodcut is an edition of fifty impressions, all hand-printed by me on Arches 250gsm Natural White Paper.
Prints are signed, numbered and dated.
Thank you for your kind attention, Robert B. Froh