By Tom Wachunas
"If you can't do it in black and white, all the color in the world is not going to help." - Robert Malone, Southern Illinois U., Edwardsville
“Sane judgment abhors nothing so much as a picture perpetrated with no technical knowledge, although with plenty of care and diligence.” - Albrecht Dürer
EXHIBIT: Black & White Linocuts: Printmaking Works by Dennis Revitzky, THROUGH OCTOBER 25, 2015, at the Canton Museum of Art, 1001 Market Avenue N., Canton, OH www.cantonart.org 330.453.7666
I remember well an episode from the fifth grade when I first encountered a picture of Albrecht Dürer’s woodcut print (c. 1497-8), Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, in an encyclopedia. The crisp precision and abundance of detailed linearities, and the dramatic capturing of light – all in black and white - were completely mesmerizing. I want to learn to draw just like that, I thought to myself. Subsequent learning about the demanding process of producing such an image, called “relief” printmaking, made Dürer’s artistry all the more amazing to me.
A brief primer is in order. The relief method of printmaking requires cutting or carving into a block of suitable material such as wood (“woodcuts”) or linoleum (“linocuts”) so as to produce a raised image (hence, an image “in relief”) to which the artist applies ink and transfers it to paper via pressure from rubbing by hand or rolling it through a mechanical press.
While skilled drawing in the traditional sense produces instantaneous results by directly applying a drawing implement to paper, much of my fascination with relief printmaking lies in appreciating its meticulous procedure of sculpting the matrix, i.e., the surface of the block, to recapitulate the artist’s original drawing. Additionally, relief prints are not “right-reading” duplications of the original drawing, but rather mirror images. The artist must necessarily think in reverse, as it were.
Though the images in this remarkably arresting collection of black and white linocuts by Dennis Revitzky aren’t as densely packed with tight clusters of individual lines as, say, the Dürer masterwork mentioned above, they are no less enthralling in their diverse pictorial textures. Their very high contrasts of light and dark values cause them to practically pop off the wall with a sculptural boldness (even when viewed from a substantial distance) while simultaneously drawing us to the finer points of their interiors. Reading them abstractly, the whites function not as static backgrounds or inactive negative spaces, but as integral units of illumination in an organic whole – white light as a discrete, positive form sublimely balanced with heavy blacks and “grey areas” of delineated patterns.
Mr. Revitzky is multi-lingual, in a manner of speaking. His particular brand of naturalism (sometimes imbued with surrealist sensibilities) allows him to be equally eloquent in landscape, still-life and figural genres. And playful, as evidenced by his witty appropriation of significant works from art history. With pieces such as Art History in the Great West and The Collection, for example, try making a game of identifying borrowings from ancient Greece, Michelangelo, Van Gogh, Picasso, Magritte, or Dali, among others.
Revitzky’s fluid drawing/cutting style has all the confidence and elegance of finely-wrought calligraphy. From that perspective alone, you might consider the experience of looking at his prints a delightful exercise in write-reading.
PHOTOS, from top: The Collection; Winter Night; Art History In The Great West; Oriental Still-Life