“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.