Thursday 28 June 2012

Harold Collinson 'on either side the river lie long fields of barley and of rye'

The Vale of Trent around Nottingham is remarkable for a series of cliffs and fossil cliffs that stretch along the river and sometimes stand some way back from it. As soon as I saw this colour woodcut by Harold Collinson (1886 - 1955) I knew where I was; it was one of those moments of immediate recognition and affection for a landscape I have known all my life. I've walked miles along this river, looking across the pastures, at long lines of hills beyond them.

For many years, Collinson was etching master at Nottingham of School of Art and is mainly known (if at all) for views of old Nottingham. But they have as much a sense of place as this colour print called Haying. But this I like a lot more. And I like it for all the wrong reasons. Apart from the attraction of the locality, I love the outlandish way he has attempted to describe those sudden showers the Trent valley is prone to. It goes without saying that his green sky is also towards the top of the list.

It would be easy to miss the fact that the hills are closer than they might appear because of the awkward way that Collinson has shown the shadow on the lower slopes. For me, this what makes the picture so immediately telling. Here is an artist who knows a countryside so well, he knows what is unique and what he needs to describe. It goes beyond technique. It talks.

It's quite odd to place the viewer in so much shadow as well but then that it what makes it so throughly art deco. I would be surprised to find out that he didn't know the work of those other localists, Sylvan Boxsius and Eric Slater. And the quote above is from the Lincolnshire poet,  Alfred, Lord Tennyson: ''I am half-sick of shadows!'' cried the lady of Shallot'.

Monday 25 June 2012

Patience Galloway's colour woodcuts

Or they may well be linocuts. But being a painter as well, I suppose Patience Galloway dispensed with the use of a keyblock. All that I can add about her was that she was working in the 1930s and exhibited with the Society of Graver Printers in Colour alongside alot of fairly well-known names today but also with others who have been largely forgotten. This may sound incredible given contemporary coverage of just about everything.

It's a shame the image I have of  'The old waggon', (which is the correct catalogue title) is so small but it is the best I could do given the money-grabbing nature of these art-price sites who have the face to even take my own images and then try to charge someone else to look at them! Her paintings are often of the mountains of north Wales and so far as I can make out from the dismal little images, they are not bad at all. The prints, though, are very much the work of a painter and the yacht is approached with elan and is exactly the kind of image you could sell in the streamlined 1930s. Stand by for more.


Tuesday 19 June 2012

Kathleen Hale's colour woodcuts


The British artist Kathleen Hale is now remembered for the series of illustrated books she first published in 1938 that took Orlando the marmalade cat and his activities as their subject. Many of these contain fine lithographs that Hale drew herself. What is far less well known are the origins of her skill as a graphic artist. Quite possibly Hale herself had really forgotten how it all began.

She had first trained at Manchester, followed by the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London where she became one of Augustus John's bohemian circle of friends and hangers on and led a life that was described by one person as 'rackety'. Then during the first war, she won a scholarship to Reading School of Art and because it was still part of an extension college of Oxford University in 1915, she duly went off expecting a version of Merton or Balliol. She was severely disappointed but never quite admitted that her powers of imagination were far greater than the extent of her knowledge.


Disappointed or not, head of the school was none other than our own Allen Seaby who Hale described as 'dedicated to traditional woodcut'. But she said that many years later. And although she also recalls that Seaby insisted on her making these traditional colour woodcuts, as she put it, she still worked hard and was often in the studio when the caretaker came in to close. It strikes me that behind her was the firm but kindly presence of the head of art. I think you can also see by the two prints shown here that her hard work paid off well. She complained about the intricacy and described the process as 'laborious' but the sheer fluent vivacity of 'The faun' alone contradicts all those critics and artists who damned colour woodcut for its lack of originality and expressiveness. More than that, none of Noel Rooke's colour woodcut students at the Central School ever approached the work of Seaby's students for skill or stylishness. For all Mr Seaby's insistence, he obviously let them get on with it. I wish, I must admit, there were more colour woodcuts like this around. And, in fact, there is one more print by her but I'm afraid I don't have a copy.


She left Reading in 1917, but Reading and its laborious printmaking methods was reluctant to leave her. These prints were not only included in a portfolio of staff and student colour woodcuts in 1924, the same year saw William Giles publishing 'The faun' in the first volume of his Original Colour Print Magazine. This was recognition of a pretty high order at the time. It's only a shame that she herself didn't realise just what a fine printmaker she could have been. Robert Gibbings (just as it happens) made a waggish circular Japanese method print of bunny rabbits about 1922. It got nowhere near her.


Sunday 10 June 2012

James Hiley Milner

If I had been paying more attention, I would have had the second print of blue tits to hand for the earliest readers of this post. But Gerrie Caspers, my assiduous friend in Holland, sent it on as soon as he could and this means we can get a much better idea of what James Hiley Milner (1869 - 1954) could do. He not only made colour woodcuts but was also apparently one of those rare individuals who made intalgio prints as well - in his case etchings. (Although I haven't been able to trace any so far, I would advise you to stand by, because I am sure that Gerrie will turn some up sooner rather than later because he is a man for a challenge.) Milner also went on painting in oils and watercolour untill almost the end of his life. The small flower study I've added come some way short of Manet but has a freshness and lack of sophistication about them - just like the prints. The bridge is so well done, it made me wonder why the willow tree is so stiff. But even there I think we might be glancing back at wonderful late C18th watercolourists like Francis Towne.


First and foremost, he handles colour with considerable subtlety. He may not have the ballet russes feel of, say, Mable Royds. He is quietly conservative. But in both prints here, especially the first, you can see how much he achieves with a limited range of colour. So many colour woodcut artists distract us either with their panache or virtuosity but Milner lets the image speak. More than that, he can do landscape in the British manner but also bird studies much more in the style of the Japanese.

And from our own perspective of course, these two prints now have a strong period atmosphere and appeal. It is almost impossible for anyone looking at British colour woodcuts today not to be aware of this. On the first version of this post, I suggested that Milner may have been a student of Frank Morley Fletcher. The craftsmanship is there and certainly the printing skills that became a matter of course with any of Fletcher's students. If he wasn't an actual student, he would be a follower. Fletcher's reticence is present, and also his subtle shadings of colour. In addition, Milner has a draughtsman's eye for structure. Look at the bridge and the bird's open wings. So, the other printmaker than comes to mind is John Platt less the obvious dynamics. First and foremost, Milner is observant.

I should add that the first print has come up for sale on British ebay. It's certainly interesting that one print should have followed on quite so soon after the other. But then one good sale deserves another. Not that I am here to flog a print; the aim is only to bring Milner's charm and skill to the attention of readers. I neglected him. I had actually seen 'Winter guests' but had somehow pased it over. Now I hope he's part of the canon.

Tuesday 5 June 2012

Arthur Wesley Dow: declaration of independence

It would probably be a mistake to try and be too exact about Arthur Wesley Dow. Apparently, he never set out to be an artist in the first place and there are also people in the United States who take the line that his work as an educationalist is more important. This will be just a brief look at some of his prints; the man himself, in the end, was no specialist.


He was, though, a man for libraries and museums and took private art classes whilst he was doing other things. He was then encouraged to study in France and left the US in 1884 only to find himself discouraged by the prevailing academic approach to art. I do wonder what he was doing in France because he was there, on and off, for five years, but by his own account he didn't discover the work of Hokusai untill he had returned to Massachusetts in 1885. But then some artists make up a story for themselves about themselves and I have to say I find it hard to believe that he could spend so long in France at the height of the interest in Japanese woodblocks without knowing who finding out who Hokusai was. But let's go on with the tale as it has been told. First off, he went back to his town of Ipswich but soon moved to Boston where he had more opportunity to sell his work. While there, he made his well-known trip to the Boston Public Library where he discovered the work of Hokusai in a book.


He has presented this as a moment of truth. Perhaps it was, but perhaps it wasn't. This led him on to Ernest Fenellosa who was curator of Japanese Art at Boston Museum of Fine Arts. This institution was in the process of building up an important collection, partly based on works that Fenellosa had bought back from Japan himself, having spent years there teaching. The upshot was Fenellosa took on Dow as an assistant and the pair of them set about categorising Japanese visual art. Now here comes my own declaration of independence.


A good deal has been made of his friendship with Fenellosa but so far as his printmaking goes I think the curator of prints at the museum had a bigger effect on Dow. The man we are talking about is Sylvester Koehler and for me he is one of the best examples of print curators at their best. He had been born in Leipzig but had moved to the States as a boy and was eventually offered the job at Boston as a leading figure in the etching revival (and I have to say this isn't independent research). He probably met Dow in Boston but Koehler was only appointed in 1885, the same year Dow took a post at The Pratt Institute in New York.. The following year Fenellosa was dismissed for marrying so soon after his divorce.


That year Koehler was made honorary curator of graphic art at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, and in 1891 organised an exhibtions of Japanese prints that included print-making equipment and blocks. More to the point, the following year a very helpful report was published by the Smithsonian that basically told you how to make them. And it took all that time for Dow to get round to it. And then he couldn't stop.(And as you will be wondering, the man in the photograph wearing the tam is Dow. I can't remember who the other person is but he is not Fenellosa (and not Koelher either).


Dow was also a keen photographer and is also credited with making some very early linocuts. Now, I like the print below very much, but again I find it hard to credit that Dow could have been making linocuts as early as 1911, the date of this print (called 'Snowy Peak, Los Angeles'). On this one, though, I may be wrong. Dow was at pains to create an American style and he went about this in two ways: by example, and by teaching. For instance, he was tempted from the Pratt in 1904 to be director of the new department of fine arts at the Teacher's College, Columbia University. It's paradoxical, but he was not the only artist to attempt an independant style using art from a very different culture as a model. At the same time artists in Glasgow and Galloway were trying for their own national style partly using the graphic art of Japan as a model, too. It was of course by and large free of associations for them. In a similar way, Claude Flight in the 1920s praised linocut for having no history. It's disingenuous, when you look at the reality - I mean how much they all knew - but who am I to judge? Fortunately, these eloquent little prints here speak for themsleves.