Tuesday, 6 November 2012
Elizabeth York Brunton
There must be a process whereby an artist becomes an enigma. How it came about for the Scottish printmaker, Elizabeth York Brunton, I do not know, but certainly an enigma is exactly what she has become. For someone with such an individual gift, we should have more on her, but in three years or so, I have turned up only two images. Belatedly, here is a first post on her.
I deduce that she came to colour woodcut late. This was by no means unusual. In fact, her close contemporary, Marion Gill, began to exhibit her first woodcuts the same year as York Brunton, having also studied at Edinburgh College of Art. Unlike Helen Stevenson, who graduated and began to exhibit the previous year, both Gill and York Brunton were in their early forties. But while Gill went on to become a superlative maker of prints in as far as her technique was just wonderful, York Brunton I suspect stayed closer to her teacher's own approach. The expressive cutting and printing you see here can only really follow the example of one person. Unfortunately, I have no proof that it was Mabel Royds. But you decide.
Like Stevenson, she had made a surprising number of woodcuts by early on in her printmaking career and I have to assume that some of them were student pieces. Certainly by 1926 there were at least eleven, all of them in the Japanese manner, and not bad going for someone whose first exhibition date (so far as we know) was 1924. Owls, with its twiggy blue keyblock, may well be one of them. Fairly simple in its structure, there is nevertheless depth of experience in the way she makes us look up and down the picture and note the alertness of the bird and its intensity of vision. (Like so many good works of art, it describes itself).
This follows straight through into two more of her subjects that sit and wait. Again, I am going to make an assumption that this so far unidentified print, is Summer. It is altogether more sophisticated and it has already been pointed how much it has in common with Frank Morley Fletcher's image of a farm at Trepied near Etaples. This one also looks like France to me and presumably describes a scene in a tourist town where people ride carriages for pleasure. If the way the keyblock is used to catch the shadow in the trees and bark is Fletcher, the array of colours, especially the soft peach and turquoise, is Royds. But Royds never has that sense of heat and indolence, even in her Indian prints. York Brunton's work is much closer to the painter who paints out of doors and catches the moment of time in her claws. Royds is just that touch academic by this point. The patterns that the print sets up - the tree trunks, the wheels, the doors, are more subtly French than either of her teacher's work, even though all three of them studied in Paris at one time or another.
Probably kindred spirits gravitate towards one another. But I think I have made enough suggestions for one short post. Over the next month or two I shall be looking at more woodcuts by York Brunton and reporting back. The subjects sound similar: birds or landscape and sometimes both. Enigmatic, yes, and also intriguing.