A visit to a printmaker’s studio is almost always a revelation. Printmakers’ tools and methods are fascinating in their own right, and no two printmakers use these in the same way. So there is always much to learn.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting Carole Nelson’s studio as she was wrapping up preparations for THE IRAN PRINTS, a show of her woodblock prints at the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California at Santa Cruz. The show opens on January 17 and runs through March 12, 2010. http://cowell.ucsc.edu/smith_gallery/main.php?page=exhibitionSchedule
Nelson showed me through the tiny basement studio that she shares with the washing machine, dryer, and assorted basement clutter. In her printmaking corner the Iran prints are wrapped and ready to transport to the show. On a nearby counter her paper is stored; below there are plastic bins filled with inks, knives and gouges, and her collection of brayers.
These include the brayer given to her by Will Barnett when Nelson was a student at Cooper Union. He handed her the brayer, declaring that she should have it, since she was clearly a born printmaker. Not surprisingly it has become something of a good luck talisman for her.
Nelson employs these brayers to roll ink onto her cut blocks. By using a different brayer for each color, she is able to apply three to five different colors to a single block. Since she often cuts two or three blocks to print a single image, each print can have a remarkable range of color. Also, she often employs a Japanese inking brush to create an area of color which grades from light to dark.
She used this technique to create the indigo color for MARVDASHT. On the same block as this deep blue, she applied areas of light blue and yellow, using a separate brayer for each ink. A second block has the both the under-color for the triangular area at the lower right of the print and the checkered yellow that lies on top (which she prints by turning the block upside down). A final block prints the darkest details.
Listening to Nelson speak about the way she combines these different inks, it is clear that she has the intuitive color sense of a born colorist.
As she showed me these blocks we laughed about number of assistants that it would take to set up an efficient printing system – a system resembling the way that the great Japanese Edo prints were pulled. Nelson admires these prints and even has a small collection of works by Utagawa Kunisada I (Toyokuni III), her particular favorite. What she has learned from scrutinizing these prints shows up in her own work.
Moving around her studio I see that she has stacked her cut woodblocks – many of them labeled on the ends – below her inking counter. The titles on the blocks read like a history of Iran.
The images carved into these blocks derive from the years that she and her husband spent in Iran (from 1968-70), teaching English at Shiraz University and travelling through the country, and also from the changes they observed when they have returned in recent years.
Although deeply concerned by events in Iran, Nelson’s images rarely touch on politics, instead offering her vivid and often lyrical impressions of Iranian culture, landscape, and architecture. Only two of the prints touch on the current political unrest.
Of these TEHRAN, 2009 is the most direct statement. The calligraphic letters in Farsi spell out “Tehran” in grey letters and declare “freedom” in black. The green shapes are a reminder of the color used by the freedom movement. The red flowers are the color of martyrdom. This print constitutes Nelson’s lament for a country she loves.
I will be returning to California while Nelson’s show is still on exhibition and I look forward to viewing it on the wall. Look for these images in a subsequent blog!
Margaret Adams Parker