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ISSUE 118 VOL 16 PUBLISHED 4/15/2005

Woodprints reflect nature, simply

By Joe Christopherson
Contributing Writers

Friday, April 15, 2005

Scandinavian design has long been treasured around the world for its simplicity and functionality. This trend is demonstrated by the immense popularity of IKEA and the revival of the Marimekko textile designs from the 1960s.

"Mirror of the wood,” which explores a century of the woodcut print in Finland, is now on display at the Carleton Art Gallery. The exhibit offers a different window into one of the societies that shaped the woodprint aesthetic.

The 39 Finnish printmakers included in the show portray their conception of self and the landscape of their homeland. Though the show encompasses 100 years of prints, it specifically focuses on prints made within the last 20 years, representing the recent renaissance of interest in woodcut both in Finland and elsewhere.

These contemporary artists have expanded the medium's technical limitations, allowing them to work on a large scale and to use a variety of inking and block processing techniques, as well as to introduce new artistic concepts linked to modern Finnish society.

The impressive scale of the prints and the ingenuity of the artists demonstrates the sincere interest in the medium in a land where wood is the most abundant resource.

The vast forested landscape that is most commonly associated with Finland is evoked by Frans Toikkanen in his "Backwoods Pond," in which he simplifies the repetitive forest into black and white alternating bars reminiscent of a bar code.

Eava Tiisala uses a deep gestural mark in her large woodcut print "Blessed." She abandons the cleanly defined traditional aesthetic for a more expressive depiction of the human figure on an equally shocking background of red. The effect is jarring, a truly original use of the large-scale block, color and mark.

Annu Vertanen's atmospheric "Terrific Delight" loses the traditional bold graphic marks associated with the woodcut, instead embracing soft gradiated hues that are more suggestive of an airbrush painting than a print.

The more traditional mark left by Antti Holma in "The Straight Talk" is given an original twist through her pop art approach to this ancient material, which evokes Roy Liechtenstein's work.

The impressive technical and conceptual innovation in the majority of the works is a definite drawing point for Finnophiles, woodcut aficionados and the curious gallery-goer. Though it is not without the occasional goose egg, the amount and diversity of the works in the show allow viewers to pick and choose.

Karen Kunc curated "Mirror of the Wood." She is also a professor of art at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

The Carleton Art Gallery is located in the basement of the Music and Drama Center. The hours are: Monday through Wednesday noon to 6 p.m., Thursday and Friday noon to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. "Mirror of the wood" will close May 8.

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