- Artist Rooms
The printmaking technique in which an image is inscribed on a copper plate with a tool that cuts a groove in the surface. This groove holds the ink that creates the print when it is applied to paper. Also refers to the method of making an incision on a material such as glass.
The material from which an artwork is made, e.g. oil paint, bronze, paper. 'Medium' is also used for the liquid element of paint in which a colouring agent is carried. 'Mixed media' is used when an artist combines several different materials in an artwork.
An image made with a single colour.
open Read more
Ocean Surface Wood Engraving 2000 is a wood engraving of ocean waves on Zerkall paper, printed and published by The Grenfell Press, New York in an edition of seventy-five prints plus artist’s proofs. The copy held by ARTIST ROOMS is signed and dated by the artist at the bottom right corner, along with the inscription 54/75 at the bottom left, recording its numerical place within the edition. The artist Vija Celmins has described the process of making this particular print:
This work is done with an engraving tool … The idea is that you carve the wood, take a roller, put black paint on it, put a paper on it, run it through the press … What we did is put the image, which I took many years ago, on the wood itself with an emulsion so that I would be able to see the image. As soon as you start carving, the wood underneath is white and then you see how you’re drawing it. Then, of course, we print it and it all goes black.
(Quoted in Sollins 2003, pp.172–3.)
This is a very small image relative to the size of the paper on which it has been printed, the proportions emphasising the level of fine detailing and complexity achieved on such a miniature woodblock. As a wood engraving it is much more decorative and graphic than the majority of prints by Vija Celmins, which often use a photo-mechanical transfer technique such as photogravure to directly reproduce drawings onto the metal plate surface. At a distance, these prints achieve a degree of photo-illusionism, whereas Ocean Surface Wood Engraving 2000 is more clearly recognisable as a handmade wood engraving. Nonetheless, the artist remains interested in cultivating a suspended relationship between the decorative and the photographic in this work. Discussing this particular print in 2002, Celmins stated:
My wood engraving has that slightly old, superficial look to it, but when you look closer you can see my mark is not mechanical. I hope it’s a work where stillness and movement, flatness and depth, are held together in a delicate balance. I like to hide things behind looks, so that the work first looks like a photograph but when you get up close you see it’s something handmade and carved from wood: a kind of surprise.
(Quoted in Rippner 2002, pp.41–3.)
Unlike Celmins’s mezzotint and aquatint prints such as Untitled (Web 1) 2001 (AR00476), this wood engraving does not print in greyscale tonalities: the image is composed only of black inked areas and the engraved, therefore un-inked, lines of the ivory-coloured paper. Towards the top edge of the print, the inked portions are reduced to incredibly small dots and dashes, which together suggest waves seen at a distance. The print is blackest at its bottom right corner, where less wood has been cut away, and lightest diagonally opposite at the top left, where Celmins has engraved many closely aligned repeating incisions into the wood. The rhythmic ocean entirely fills the printed surface, with no horizon line or sky visible, although it does recede perspectivally on a steeply-inclined picture plane. This rectangular section of ocean is presented anonymously, with no indicators of geographic location, weather conditions or time of day. The representational subject matter of the ocean becomes a means through which to test the limits and possibilities of the printmaking surface.
This ocean image is based on one of a group of photographs of the Pacific Ocean, taken by the artist near her home in California in the late 1960s. The first works to derive from these ocean photographs were a series of graphite pencil on paper drawings in 1968 that experimented with variations in the density and tone of graphite across the various photographic iterations, such as Untitled (Ocean) 1968 (reproduced in Lingwood 1996, p.57). The artist retained these photographs to use in her prints many years later, such as Ocean Surface Wood Engraving 2000. Within the extensive group of prints by Celmins in ARTIST ROOMS there are two other works that utilise the ocean motif, and in all likelihood the same source photographs from the 1960s, as the starting point for the printed image. These are Drypoint – Ocean Surface 1983 (AR00467) and Ocean Surface Woodcut 1992 1992 (AR00484). Along with Ocean Surface Wood Engraving 2000, these works demonstrate the persistence and longevity of the ocean image as subject matter, migrating to different printmaking techniques in the artist’s practice over three consecutive decades.
Referring to this work, the only wood engraving Celmins has thus far undertaken, the artist revealed:
It was very hard for me to keep my imagination in that space for so long. In a way, that print is a record of an incredible amount of attention that someone could pay to a tiny surface to make it coherent and maybe even interesting to look at. When I’m out of it, like now, I can’t imagine ever having done it.
(Quoted in Rippner 2002, p.45.)
James Lingwood (ed.), Vija Celmins: Works 1964–96, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 1996.
Samantha Rippner, The Prints of Vija Celmins, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 2002, reproduced p.39.
Susan Sollins, ‘Vija Celmins’, in Art 21: Art in the Twenty-First Century 2, New York 2003, pp.162–73, reproduced p.172.
- Acc. No. AR00473
- Medium Wood engraving on paper
- Size 20.70 x 25.70 cm (paper 52.70 x 43.70 cm) (framed: 57.00 x 47.80 x 3.80 cm)
- Credit ARTIST ROOMS National Galleries of Scotland and Tate. Acquired jointly through The d'Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the Art Fund 2008
Vija Celmins (American, born 1938)
Born in Latvia in 1938, Cemins and her family emigrated to the United States in 1948. Although beginning her career as an Abstract Expressionist painter, she is now best known for her intricate, monochromatic drawings of a select range of subjects. In 1966 she began to use photographs as the subject for her works, creating what she described as “impossible images” which remind us of the complexity of the simplest things. These meticulous renderings of the surface of the ocean, expanses of desert, the night sky, or a spider’s web, demonstrate her fascination with the surrounding world. With a slow, painstaking approach, some of these works take up to a year to complete.
Term applied to a loose grouping of New York-based artists in the mid-20th century including Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko. Internal feelings were expressed by the physical action of producing the art works.
An image made with a single colour.