Artist Q&A: Max-Karl Winkler

We hope you will join us today between 1 and 4 pm for the opening reception of Cuttings from a Winter Garden, the solo exhibition of prints, pastels, and drawings by Max-Karl Winkler.  If you can’t make it today, Max will also be giving an artist talk/demo next Saturday, 1-4 pm.  Please read on to learn more about his work!

"Young Woman Binding Her Hair," woodcut by Max-Karl Winkler

WPG: When it comes to printmaking, you work pretty exclusively with woodcut.  Have you tried other printmaking techniques?  What about the woodcut process keeps you coming back to it?
Winkler:  I studied printmaking at The University of Texas at Austin. The introductory course began with woodcut and wood engraving, and progressed to drypoint, etching, aquatint, and lithography (note that linoleum was considered “unprofessinal,” and serigraphy was only employed for large disposable sale-price signs in supermarket windows). I went through the sequence, but woodcut and wood engraving were the processes that really attracted me. I liked their relative directness and simplicity, and the fact that I could produce prints without a press; but the initial attraction, I believe, was the wood itself, its color and its texture and even its aroma.

Unlike many printmakers, I’m not a person who really enjoys printing. I’ve often wished I had a serf to do that for me, so that I could concentrate on design and carving. I love the “look” of a woodcut, however, and you have to print to get that look.

In graduate school, I majored in drawing and printmaking. In truth, I’d have simply majored in drawing, but at that time–the mid-1960s–a drawing major had to be combined with some other field, and I chose printmaking (in those days, back when the Earth was still cooling, the term was “graphics”).
One of the attractions of woodcut, as with all printmaking processes, is the ability to make multiple images of a single design. Another, and a rather strange one, is the challenge to achieve subtle effects with a relatively coarse and hard-edged medium. And then there are the effects of wood-grain and the tools themselves, which impose their own changes on the artist’s interpretation of a design. I love the back-and-forth with the medium.

WPG: One of the reasons your woodcuts are so appealing is their unusual long, skinny shape.  What first drew you to this shape, and do you find yourself seeing images that work within that shape or do you manipulate images to make them work?

"West Texas Hillside" 6-color woodcut by Max-Karl Winkler

Winkler: One of my teachers in graduate school was the British writer and publisher Kim Taylor. He had been the editor of Graphis magazine before coming to The University of Texas, and he wrote under the name Michael Adam. His book The Labour of Love, beautifully designed by Kim himself and illustrated by the Swiss artist Robert Wyss, influenced me profoundly, to the point that I wanted to make a career of book illustration. Later, during my teaching career, I became aware of the work of the Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin, who often combined narrow horizontal or vertical decorative half-frames with his illustrations. Later still, as a free-lance illustrator, I adopted that practice in designing letterheads and business forms, and the success of those influenced my woodcuts, I believe.

And then there’s the fact that I’m a scrounger. I like to work with “found” scraps of fine wood, and those scraps often have unusual shapes. In the 1990s, when I lived in Arlington at a garden apartment complex, I came upon a broken (but solid walnut) desk that was being discarded. I rescued whatever large parts I could carry away; and years later, after I had bought a press, one of my first woodcuts was a design carved into a long thin strip of walnut that had served as a drawer divider in that desk.

That image must have triggered something in me, but the influence was also derived from Ivan Bilibin and from Japanese woodcuts (which are frequently and insistently vertical, perhaps because the language is written vertically) and from other possible sources I’m not aware of. I like the challenge to suggest more than is depicted; it’s an aspect of minimalism.

"Shaded Rocks, West Texas" woodcut by Max-Karl Winkler

WPG: You also do design and illustration work.  Did you start as an illustrator or a printmaker?  How have the two disciplines influenced each other?

Winkler: At The University of Texas in the mid-1960s, as at most universities and art schools in those days, there was an unspoken aspirational hierarchy, with Studio Art at the top, Art History beneath that, and Commercial Art (as it was called then) at the bottom. When I saw the galleys and proof-prints and a few sample pages of The Labour of Love, all of those prejudices became, for me at least, very confused. Already, by that time, I had a degree in English, and I had begun my graduate studies as an Art History major. From that time on, I wanted to illustrate books; it seemed to be a kind of work that could bring all of my interests together. Eventually, after a decade of college-level teaching, I turned to illustration. It left me little time for printmaking, but eventually I began to make woodcuts again, mostly because they provided a means of expression that the demands of clients never quite satisfied.

I recognize that my work is perhaps old-fashioned in the sense that I like to make “recognizable” images, and I suppose that my studies in literature have made me more aware of (or perhaps more dependent on) the relation of “description” to the images I make. I can’t defend that, and I don’t apologize for it. Art, as my friend Fleming Jeffries has eloquently said, is wide, and I’m happy with whatever place I have there. I’m still and always fascinated by the interrelation of words and pictures, as I believe our ancestors were, thirty thousand years ago. It’s a joyful place to be.

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2 responses to “Artist Q&A: Max-Karl Winkler

  1. Winkler’s work is wonderful. What a delight to hear him speak about it.

  2. Muffie Houstoun

    As predictable, yet another set of wonderful prints to look at, accompanied by illuminating questions to and answers by the printmaker about his or her art. Thank you, DCimPRINT