The tradition of printmaking incepted during the 16th century and has evolved throughout the centuries, solidifying its place in art production. Though the trend of printmaking has declined (due to its arduous and complex process), one person (of few) has kept with the tradition; spearheading it into the contemporary realm - Canadian artist Richard York. Currently, on exhibition at Mira Godard Gallery “Small Editions” is a body of work that not only explores the relationship between Nature and Man, but also celebrates the tradition of printmaking giving homage to the process and printmakers before. Word of warning – the images on the website do not and cannot capture the luminous quality of these works. It is necessary to see them in person!
Lets first begin with the subject matter. Upon entering the prints gallery, the viewer is confronted with images of the natural landscapes of British Columbia. Trees, lakes, rivers are lavishly coloured with bright blues, luminous greens, burnt oranges etc. The works representational in their forms are slightly abstracted - with lines rendered more fluid - mimicking the organic forms and mouvements found in nature. It’s a celebration of Nature and brings us back to our “roots”. It reminds us of the beauty outside the city constraints, that we tend to forget. I find these prints to be reminders to “stop and smell the roses” in this hectic world we live in today.
Contrasting to the prints of flowing kelp, water and the movement of trees are three prints that capture the rigidness of man made environments - “Dock, Fulford Harbour B.C.”, “City, “Between Morning and Night #1” and“Night City, Dark Field”. These prints highlight the rigid, geometrical grids that humans produce. It is York’s attempt to highlight “ the importance of the relationship of humans and the landscape”. By providing contrasting imagery, he reminds us of differentiating factors of these opposing environments and how we interact or maybe should interact.
Something that keeps creeping into my mind and is something worth thinking is (I really have no answer) – these objects which are created with the natural world in mind, are then brought into the realm of the man made landscape – the gallery, the city. Is he attempting to bring Nature back into our realm, create a dialogue between these two juxtaposing environments, or is it some sort of critique? Just something to think about…
This body of work is not singular in its narrative. While Nature and Man are prevalent, I think there is a real celebration of the process and the historical context of printmaking and art history. They are not as deliberate and are what makes these prints exciting. It allows us, the viewer, to take a deeper look and piece together various stories, histories and ideas.
The most exciting element of this exhibition is York’s manifestation of the print making process. Placed upon a table is a woodblock accompanied by 8 prints, which provide the viewer with a visual, fragmented process of how these complex prints are created. Initially, the woodcut must be etched from a sketch (backwards might I add since it is a relief process).Once etched, the block is then inked and pressed onto paper. York goes back to the woodblock and etches more and more out, re- inking the paper over and over to create depth, shading and highlighting. Some of his works, which seem simplistic in totality, actually take 20 to 25 layers of ink. If you are as confused as I am, click here for visualization.
The historical context of this work is vast. Walking through York’s prints is like through art history. Hans Baldung and Albrecht Durer are not the only references one can come up with (they are probably the most obvious when thinking about print making). Methods used, such as chiaroscuro have a great traditional impact in printmaking and are played with here in new ways to create various impressions and unusual new prints.
York, who is originally from California, was deeply influenced by his mother, who introduced him to the works of a group of American printmakers originating from the Parisian school of printmaking in the 1920’s. Lawren Harris and the Group of Seven also linger within these prints. Edvard Munch is referenced in “Breakwater” through York’s experimentation of jigsaw woodcut as well as Hopper’s woodcuts mirrored in “Night City, Dark Field”. I could go on for days, but it is much more fun to find these links yourself.
My words and images cannot do these works justice. It is worthwhile stopping in the gallery and taking a walk through history, process and Nature.