Painted Shapes: Contemporary White Line Woodcuts honors the historic tradition of the white line print method, a form of handprinting which is widely held as the only form of woodcut printing indigenous to the United States. Devised in Provincetown, Massachusetts, and sometimes referred to as the Provincetown print, this technique involves incising lines into a block of wood, painting individual shapes with watercolor paint, and printing a single image. The block can be used again and again, but no two prints will be the same.
The prints in this show demonstrate the wide variety of effects, moods, and color saturation contemporary artists achieve with this deceptively simple technique. Many of the artists are interested in themes that have been explored in white line woodcut from the beginning such as still lifes and scenes from nature and landscapes. Barbara Epstein, Fay Giarratani and Barbara Neel present cityscapes animated by fanciful color choices. Annie Bissett uses quilt-like geometries and subtle colors to create a series of related images. Julie Gray works on a large scale and finds the abstract shapes within flowers. The subtle use of watercolor washes and the grain transferred from the woodblock during printing make white line woodcuts unique; they walk the line between painting and printmaking.
Highly acclaimed Provincetown white line printmaker Sally Brophy, who wrote the essay for the exhibition catalog, highlighted the connection she and other Massachusetts artists have with the white line woodcut technique, “I studied white line woodcuts with Kathyrn Smith in 1999, who learned it from her grandmother, Ferol Sibley Warthen, who in turn learned the technique from Blanche Lazzell. I like being able to make this connection to the original printmakers for myself and for my students. It’s rare to be able to trace an artistic technique back to the beginning. White line woodcuts are an American original.”
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.