Thursday, 31 January 2013

Orlik in Germany

I have only just heard that there are currently not one but two Orlik exhibitions in Germany. Both concern themselves with the work he produced in Japan but I haven't had time to work my way through the spiel which I need to translate from German. Unfortunately, the one at the Ostdeutsche Galerie in Regensburg closes in three days time, on 3rd February. Wie ein Traum! at the Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe in Hamburg, is on untill 14th April. Much as I would like to be there, I can't see it happening, but look forward to a review from Klaus, who put me on to this tonight. Hopefully, if you can't get there, the German galleries will publish catalogues, unlike Sheffield.


Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Emil Orlik after Japan

Once Emil Orlik came home again from Japan, even though he had gone there to learn how to make woodcuts in the workshops, the woodcuts he made were few n number. Instead he embarked on a long series of portrait etchings. One of the first is one of the most famous, his portrait of Gustav Mahler, a typically articulate image that is probably no better than many of the others. When he first met Orlik in a cafe, Mahler thought him too talkative, amonst other things. Perhaps he was unaware that the man with the sketchbook had mastered one of the visual idioms of Japan.

The first image here, though, shows someone who was a part of the same circle of Secession designers and artists. If Orlik knew Kolo Moser well, it is still less portrait than design. For all the sophistiocated work he had produced while in Japan, back home he reverted to cutting and printing that lets the medium speak for itself. He takes such a different approach with etching, it is hard to credit that he made his portrait of Moser only about a year after the one of Mahler, although again I wonder whether portrait is quite the right word.

Orlik knew Bernard Pankok (above) before he went off to Japan. In fact, it was with Pankok that Orlik began to make his first woodcuts once he had pulled out of the Munich Academy of Fine Art. The image certainly suggests the artistic milieu of the man but the usual analysis of character we might expect from an etching is missing. Instead Pankok hunches over the image that he is creating. It is an image of the artist, cramped and concerned only with his work. It is some long way from the dramatic refinement of Mahler.

With Pankok and Moser, the image is deliberate and bold; it takes up the whole space. For Mahler, there is no such intimacy but the differentiation is intense. Where the pressure gives out at the bottom left hand corner in the Pankok, the sepia tone is graduated with care for Mahler. It isn't the colour of the paper you can see, it is the colour of the image. The strict represenatation of Mahler's face stands out agains the smudge of his bow-tie and the scrawl of his waistcoat and jacket. It is an image of intelligence and refinement rather than artistic passion. It was also also someone he barely knew.

It strikes me that, by and large, he opted for woodcut when it came to someone that he knew and knew well. It doesn't matter how sophisticated their way of life might have been, his colleagues and friends from the Secession were rendered raw and square. There weren't many of them, more's the pity. There were far more of the portrait etchings. I must admit, I don't know who the one above shows but coming from 1901, it is one of the earliest. Even so he has the elegant spatial arrangement off pat. With the woodcuts we look everywhere, with the etchins, it is the eyes the nose, the ears we look at. The blank jacket, the dark cravat, the beautiful planes of the forehead and the beard, all lead us one way. It has tremendous finished concentration, there is nothing provisional, raw or creative about it.

Reluctantly, I have to admit his woodcut of the great designer Josef Hoffmann isn't one of his strongest, but there are so few of them around, it has to go in. The one of the Swiss artist, Ferdinand Hodler is more powerful and affecting. Perhaps it was the peasant build and personal tragedy that makes it that way, but I have already given Hodler alot of space and now it's more interesting to look at two more works that in some ways use a dual appraoch.

 I assume the art critic and writer Hermann Bahr was known to Orlik. He would certainly be one of the wider circle in Vienna and this etching is considerably less formal than the others here. With the vivid pose, the questing eyes, the untidy hair, it is vigorous and appealing. After visiting an exhibition of Frank Brangwyn's etchings in Vienna, it was Bahr who said he had wanted to look into Brangwyn's soul and, yes, there is something both intemperate and ludicrous about Orlik's etching of him. But there it is. We come to the 1906 woodcut portrait of the art patron, Max von Gompertz, who I don't know very much about. But again, Orlik shifts his approach to offer something much more like a formal portrait. Like Hodler, and unlike all the others here, he faces left and looks downwards. It's all those kinds of choice that Orlik made, whether conscious or not, that provides the sensitivity beneath the chatter.


Sunday, 27 January 2013

Campbell Grant

By the time Campbell Grant arrived at Santa Barbara in 1930, things were not looking good for the school of arts and crafts there. It was a private institution, enrolment was down due to the Depression and the British principal, Frank Morley Fletcher, was somewhere near resigning  his post. But apparently there was time between his arrival and Fletcher's departure for Los Angeles, for Grant to learn how to make colour woodcut, in that immaculate American manner, from this one-time British master.

I say apparently because there is a mis-match between the dates I have and the ones provided by US print dealers. I don't know how long Campbell was there. He had won a scholarship at San Francsico College of Arts and Crafts but the two prints above suggest different things he would have learned from Fletcher. Firstly, it was how to print with great skill. Despite the name of the school, Grant certainly doesn't follow Fletcher's old arts and crafts manner, where brushstrokes show. Nor is there an obvious attempt at bokashi. It isn't at all easy to work out how he achieved the graduation of tone in the top print or the mottled effect you see towards the bottom. But he was far from the only artist who had nominally studied under Fletcher to go in for similar, more modern, effects.

Secondly, he seems to have picked up Fletcher's habit of setting small figures in the landscape. It probably makes more sense in the United States than it does in the Lake District and Grant was better at it than his teacher. Even so, it gives a miniature effect as if he were model-making. Fletcher had not made prints for many years before he embarked on his short series of California prints in 1927, so probably Grant arrived in the nick of time. But none of the prints you see here have either dates or titles and I have to assume that colour woodcut was only a phase in Grant's long career. After Santa Barbara, he spent twelve years at Anaheim, working as an animator for Disney.

Some of the prints certainly look like applications for the job (if he hadn't got it already). They also show how fluent he had become. He can shift from an image like the one above that harks back to the Vienna Secession as a touchstone, and then on to mode Japan, or go from expressionist to folksy with ease. It is all there, and American, and necessary for successful commercial illustrators. Admittedly there are some who have one style, but it is never exactly their own.

All the prints, except the last, come from Annex Galleries, appropriately at Santa Rosa (all are sold). The last is from Parniani Fine Art. My thanks are due to them. It costs them to run a website; it cost me nothing.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

How to identify a Helene Mass

Up untill about two years ago or so, an Amsterdam auction house had an online catalogue for the sale of a very comprehensive collection of colour woodcuts by German, Austrian and British artists. It was a tremendous resource and is much missed and what struck me particularly is that someone had had the presence of mind to build up such a fascinating collection.

My own half dozen central European prints looked rather puny by comparison. Not only that, the signatures were so difficult to make out, three had been unidentified for years. But once I decided to make an inventory, I made an all-out effort to pin them down. Believe me, it is an utter waste of time trying to read the signatures. I remember a friend saying to me, 'My mother would have been able to read it,' but even though she came from Gelsenkirchen, I was dubious. Not even Germans can make them out.

But that catalogue offered a solution. There were enough prints by individual artists to be able to work your way through and identify the artist by their style. Most artists, once they get into a groove, stick with it, and there was something oddly satisfying about catching them out in this way. Englebert Lap proved easy, as did Paul Leschhorn. Matching the name in the catalogue with the signature, it all became suddenly obvious. The print that turned out trickiest was the second one you see here, and that says quite alot, I suppose, about the way Mass worked. Her career was suprisingly long and her output was diverse and basically she was transitional. I don't want to start bandying about terms like Secession or German impressionist, but I am sure you will see that the naturalness of the first print is markedly different from the formality of the second.

That said, the motifs are the same and more to the point the same sensibility can been seen at work. Each time that was the thing that gave them all away. But it was least obvious and more searching in Mass. Unfortunately, she had another fussier approach, in common with Josephine Siccard Redl, which I'm afraid I have to call chocolate-box mode. Not easy to identify at all, because it could as easily be Redl or Rotky (see below). Crude and early works never fit anywhere. You will say, he has chosen a bunch of prints with trees so of course they look similar. But they all did trees - Lap, Leschhorn, Frank, Thiemann, Johne, Rotky. Thiemann you think birch, with Leschhorn it's a conifer, Johne lime, und so weiter.

Mention of Carl Thiemann brings me to another, more practical point. The art reference section in Nottingham public library has always had an invaluable German publication, a dictionary of signatures and mongrams, where the compiler has approached the idiosyncrasies of artists with unimpeachable thoroughness. In the end, it is far, far more impressive than the collection that was sold in Amsterdam. It was that book that helped me to identify a Thiemann I found in a junk shop. Why I didn't go back to it for the rest of them, I really just don't know. But it will almost certainly be found in any large library in Austria and Germany. I can see it now, with the illegible signatures crawling across the pages like something out of Kafka.

Of course, one of the great things about a blog is the opportunity it gives to scroll down the page and compare images as they come up. One aspect of Mass' work I had not noticed untill just now was what all these prints here have in common - similar proportions. It is the square image made famous by the Vienna square calendar for 1904, was it? The date, like almost everything else, escapes me.

I should add my gratitude to Paramour Fine Art for the top image. Mass is reckoned to be very hard to come by, but Paramour have three for sale, and at a reasonable price.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013


For the Muslim world, Morocco is Mogreb-el-Aksa, the Far West, a sort of oriental Connemara. I say this because I shall be there this time tomorrow, more or less, and want to take the opportunity to wish all readers a happy and prosperous New Year before I go.

I shall be posting again sometime soon after the 20th. In the mean time, here is a re-run of colour prints of northern Morocco, with Mary Macrae White's appealing of view of what I believe is Fez at the top (though it could be Tetouan), followed by FG Wilkinson's unusual linocut of Chefchaouen. Unusual because the town lies in the Rif and had not that long been taken over by the Spanish whose first task, as they saw it, was to close down what has been called the boy-market. Sounds unlikely, especially as the first job of occupying Western forces was to set up a quartier reserve, but there you are.

The sweet market in Tangier no longer exists (I've looked) but many oriental towns still have the kind of place that Ada Collier depicts, as she only could, with her puddles of colour. Other Western colour print artists visited Morocco, but I can't remember offhand who they were, and these are the only images I have ever come across. I looked forward to discovering others in 2013.

Margaret Shelton: endless summer

If there is one thing that I notice about young would-be printmakers in Canada and Australia before the war, it is their initiative. Many were at art schools where there was no teaching in contemporary techniques like linocut and they had no option but to use manuals they found in book shops or the college library.

As a twenty-one year old at the Institute of Technology and Art at Calgary in 1936 she found Walter Phillips' The Technique of the Color-Woodcut and one of Claude Flight's books about linocut and used them as a basis for her own printmaking. (Phillips also went to work in Alberta in 1940 and she had the oppportunity to study with him then). Now comes the 'but'. Unlike the Australian contingent who studied in London with Claude Flight in the twenties, Shelton's technique was superb but her style conservative. There is nothing in itself wrong with that, but looking at her work, you would hardly think the 1930s were over by the time she made many of these prints.

But much the same thing happened to the British artist, Sybil Andrews, when she emigrated to Vancouver Island in 1947. Much as I admire her work, she just went on as if they 1930s had never ended. Later on she introduced something that passes for abstraction, but she continued with her Stations of the Cross series that she had begin in 1935. But then perhaps it's what comes with a long life as an artist.


Without a doubt almost all of Shelton's prints have Phillips sense of big spaces and soft distances, but you can't help but feel there was no need to change. It may be the case that in Canada there was still a market for work like this. As students they were already producing lincouts for small batches of ten or twelve Christmas cards, presumably to sell. It's interesting that Phillips was also a great one for Christmas cards that he sent out every year.

Even so, the gap between Shelton and Phillips was quite a wide one. Most of her own production was in linocut, which was beyond the pale so far as Walter Phillips was concerned. She did combine the techniques for some of her work, but from the 1940s onwards, when she started to make prints in larger numbers, lino may have been the only serious option. More surprisingly, she also used linocut for complex monochrome prints like the one above. At first glance, most viewers would probaly take them to be wood-engravings.

She was also a prolific water-colourist and, again like Phillips, she would use her many watercolours as a basis for her prints. This suggests just how much their conception was based on ideas of picture-making and were nothing like the work of Flight and his cohorts in London, but had more in common with the work of British linocutters like SG Boxsius and others I cannot mention. Perhaps it's just the mountain scenery, but who she reminds me of most are the Austrian artists Engelbert Lap and Carl Rotky. Did she know their work, or know immigrant printmakers? This is the problem with curators and art historians. Did they know enough to ask the right questions when Shelton was alive? Now that she is dead, we shall probably never find out.

I also have to add that the images you see here are a personal selection, not a retrospective. Quite alot of what she did I'm not so keen on. And it's rather like Lap. His skill was great, but there is only so much snow and so many mountains you can do without some calling out a search-party.