Friday, 24 July 2015

Three Scottish artists: Jessie Garrow's 'The wave'


I am starting to think that 'The wave' was the only colour woodcut that Jessie Garrow ever made. Like most people, I only know it from the illustration published by The Studio in 1924 but just on that evidence I would say here is the most professional and stylish colour woodcut made by any young Scottish artist at the time.

Born in Bearsden, East Dunbarton in 1899, she studied at Glasgow School of Art where she met a fellow stylist who she married in about 1920. This was Ian Cheyne. Garrow claimed that they had taught themselves to make colour woodcut. Certainly she had made The wave before Chica MacNab's woodcut classes began at the School of Art. Whether or not she had recourse to Frank Morley Fletcher's Woodblock Printing is another matter but she has little in common with Fletcher and keyblock outline, which he used freely, only appears along two of the women's arms. It was highly unusual to depend on so much white and on contrasting colours to create an image at the time. My first impression was how peculiar the figures looked with their white stockings and shoes but she was bowing to no conventions here, especially in the way she made figures central to a colour woodcut.

It will not surprise you to hear that Garrow made her living as a fashion illustrator and writer and also illustrated books with the same spare line. But how could it be that such an original artist could leave so little work behind her? In her interests she is closest to Arthur Rigden Read who began making his own stylish woodcuts in 1922. But Read was a generation older. Like her, he didn't make a fetish of the keyblock, was mainly interested in figure subjects, and often used black, white and grey around this time (and just so you know what I mean I've included on of his own 1924-ish prints) but Garrow's sense of style was more acute than Read's. Just look at those overlapping feet on the pier - nothing if not ambitious for a one and only woodcut (and I would like someone to prove me wrong about that).


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