Gouge and the Power of Black and White

Did anyone visit the show Gouge: The Modern Woodcut  1870 to Now at the Armand Hammer Museum in Los Angeles last winter? I would love to get a firsthand response to the exhibit. There was a review in a recent issue of Art on Paper, which whetted my curiosity. The web site for the show is worth a visit; it has some good text, a video with an overview of the show by curator Allegra Pesenti, and images of some of the prints on display. Modern Woodcut Show

The show was titled “Gouge” because the curator identified gouge cuts as especially characteristic of the modern woodcut. What struck me about the images on the web was that they were primarily black and white prints. When there was color, it appeared to be a secondary consideration. The relationship between black and white and powerful gouged line deserves its own conversation. Of course black and white prints from wood blocks date back to the invention of printing and there were many great prints made prior to 1870. Indeed, think of Durer.

U- gouges and v- gouges of various sizes

u- gouges and v- gouges of various sizes

But say “gouge” and I think of the masters, Munch, the German Expressionists and others. For noteworthy contemporary gouge work, look at the prints of some of my colleagues at the Washington Printmakers Gallery. WPG Gallery Homepage. Access to their work on this site is via a click on the artists name on the homepage.  Margaret Adams Parker’s work, especially her black and white landscape prints (see the detail of Winter Stream below) are very powerful, due in great part to her mastery of the gouge. Winter Stream (detail) Then contrast Lila Oliver Asher’s linocuts, which show the elegant, sinuous side of line-making with gouge tools, as shown in the mother and child detail. And Max-Karl Winkler’s understated combination ofBetween the Rocks gouge line and black and white pattern in his print At Through the Rocks, is classic and truly beautiful.

There are v-gouges and u-gouges of various sizes and the depth and angles of the blades and the pressure of the artist’s hand determine the width and depth of the cut. So you often can’t tell from the print which tool was responsible for the line. I think the result comes from the skill of the hand, as it does with most printmaking tools.

mother and child

A note on black and white.  In addition to my participation at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, I show my woodcut prints with the American Color Print Society based in Philadelphia.  This volunteer organization has a fascinating history. it was established in 1930 and at that time mounted a radical and successful crusade to convince the art establishment to allow the exhibit of color prints. The members were responsible for the very first nationwide color print exhibition in 1940.  Some very nice talented and dedicated printmakers in this organization to this day. They mount member shows at various locations and hold juried national competitions.  Check out their site. American Color Print Society.

Carole Nelson


2 responses to “Gouge and the Power of Black and White

  1. Thank you, Carole, for the kind words. For fine carving, I want to recommend woodcuts and wood engravings by Wanda Gag. Some readers might remember her as the author and illustrator of the classic children’s book, “Millions of Cats.” Her best woodcuts are a university in themselves: you can find some of them on the websites of The National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress.

  2. Carole, that says a lot about the world of woodcuts and the Washiington Printmakers.
    You make some very good points.