Melinama does Illustration Friday: "Wise." Also, thoughts on the Endi Poskovic color woodblock workshop.
I'm glad I was able to persuade Mark to go to the Endi Poskovic workshop with me. Endi is a Bosnian artist who is particularly known for his large multi-block color prints and is a tenured professor at University of Michigan.
The workshop was held in Raleigh at ArtSpace, a building I'd never visited before. Its high ceilings and bright, airy quality are inspiring. We had a lovely large room for our work (about a dozen students). Beforehand we walked through the halls looking at the exhibited works of the artists who rent studios there.
Each of us was expected to design and cut a key block (the black one) and then a second color block, and then ink and print the color proof, over the course of the two days. Pieces of 9x12 MDF (medium density fiberboard) were provided and we worked like crazy between demonstrations, slide shows, etc.
It was thought-provoking to watch Endi work. He is extremely methodical. Where work is concerned, time stands still for him. He puts 100-400 hours of block-cutting into each of his works. He spends an entire day mixing inks and does not even print on that day. He spends a couple of hours burnishing one color into one piece of paper. I could see that as he sat to help a student, he went into a focus so intense the clock stopped. I think he would burnish until the lights went out and the cinderblocks crumbled.
It's certainly obvious now why my woodblocks have been unsuccessful. I had the idea that one should be able to crank them out, one after another, at an efficient rate. This has nothing to do with the reality of what Endi showed us.
The most important thing I learned: I don't want to do color woodblocks. I like blockprints better when they're black and white, and, should I have a hankering to color them, I'll do it with paint.
The amount of wasted paint made me want to weep. It reminded me of this commercial Loretta Lynn did for Crisco Oil when I was a kid - she poured a ton of oil into a pan, fried her chicken, then (evidently) poured the oil back in the bottle and demonstrated that only a scant tablespoon of oil was actually absorbed by the chicken skin. See, it takes a ton of this very expensive block print ink to get the process started - it's blobbed out on a piece of glass, treated with burnt plate oil and magnesium carbonate, and then it's stirred and folded by spatula for a long time, and then some is spread on another piece of glass, and brayered out to a thin layer, and then meticulously rolled onto the plate. When it's all said and done, Edni probably made 80 percent more ink than actually went on the plates. Then you have to wash all the glass plates, and the brayer, and the blocks. So most of the ink, seemingly, went down the sink during the cleaning process.
Some people actually tried to save ink by folding it into squares of Saran Wrap, but I shudder imagining them trying to unfold those sticky ink squares at home...
Endi told us that the art departments at some universities had "moved so far to the left" in recent times that they had disdain for physical objects like paintings, sculptures, and prints. (Many digital artists wonder why anybody would be such a Luddite as to bother with paint and ink and oil and expensive paper and all the other expensive, time consuming art paraphernalia when they could get 90 percent of the effect with 10 percent of the effort and one percent of the expense.) Now, though, he says, the pendulum swings and a craft as seemingly outmoded as his is the new cutting edge. Everything old is new again.