History of the Relief Print Documented by Important Historic Examples
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Curator Art Hazelwood, himself a relief artist, has done an extensive amount of research on the relief print in Northern California. The Hearst Gallery exhibition, California in Relief, at Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, is packed with nearly one hundred examples of how relief printing — wood engraving, linocut and woodcut, along with some mixed approaches — has contributed to the history of printmaking in this area. A lot of fascinating biographical information accompanies each artist’s print.

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Edgar Dorsey Taylor’s Agave Forest, 1965

Hazelwood identifies seven areas of influence that affected the work of Northern California printmakers, ranging from 19th Century Japanese woodcuts, showing their effects at the beginning of the 20th Century, to the print workshops that began to flourish in the Bay Area in the 60’s and 70’s. The show begins with a number of artists who had lived and worked in Japan, and continues with Japanese artists who came to work in the United States, only to be interred during World War II. It concludes with works by some of the recent historic San Francisco greats, such as Wiley and Arneson.

I was particularly interested in the relationship of relief printing to screenprinting. Many of the artists who embraced printmaking as a medium friendly to political posters and commentary, used screenprinting as a medium, and were represented in this show for their expressions in relief prints as well. The works of Emily Packard and Louise Gilbert are interesting examples, because they actually produced the same images in both media. The bold graphic quality of screenprinting and relief printing and their capacity to sustain clear texts are factors that have historically made them attractive to artists with a political message.

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Linda Lee Boyd’s color woodcut, Pouring Concrete, 1989

Diego Rivera looms large for his praise of the worker and an historic influence in San Francisco. He personally affected many of the artists shown. Linda Lee Boyd’s Pouring Concrete III extols the honor of common physical work. The Labor Movement, the California Labor School (supported for a while by the GI Bill, until the effects of the McCarthy era hit), the WPA, and artists who studied in Mexico City at the Taller de Grafica Popular all played a part in the rich history of San Francisco’s liberal politics and art community. Relief prints from this focus connect to prints that speak about the politics and history of Latin America in general, the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, Chicano and other cultural affirmations.

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Thanks Mom, 1999, Color linoleum cut by Kathy Aoki

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Original Adaptation-Blossom, by Katya McCulloch

Works by contemporary artists such as Kathy Aoki (her Thanks Mom, 1999, which plays with power tools and gender issues), and by Katya McCullock (Original Adaptation, 2005, a rich textural abstraction in yellow and reds), caught my fancy. Some works are remarkable for the scale in which they have realized their imagery — Emmanuel C Montoya’s Homenaje a Lydia Mendoza: La Reina Tejana and Sandy Walker’s Wyoming are both big and impressive. Many of the prints in this show are landscapes, some influenced by the Japanese tradition and others springing from views of the California hills and farm work. I particularly liked Edgar Dorsey Taylor’s Agave Forest, 1965. There are figurative works and cityscapes as well.

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Sandy Walker’s 1988-1990 woodcut, Wyoming

This exhibition is packed with a lot of inspiration and food for thought for the artist, along with a great historical perspective. The show continues through September 20.

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