Wood Engravings at the Bankside Gallery

Keisei Kobayashi - Eden 08B

Normally I wouldn’t write about an exhibition of the Society of Wood Engravers. Not because I don’t like them, but because they fail the test of this blog of having some sort of Japanese connection. But guess what? This year, for their annual exhibition at the Bankside Gallery, they’ve joined forces with the Kyoto Print Exhibition Executive Committee and included ten Japanese artists in their show. I found the contrast between the British and Japanese artists fascinating.

Woodblock prints are produced by cutting the design into a wooden block. Ink is then rolled onto the block and used to produce the print, either by a printing press or by hand. The most famous Japanese prints are the ukiyo-e or floating world prints, whose bright colours all had to be printed in separate stages.

In wood engraving the artist cuts the design into the hard grain end of the wood rather than using the plank side, which is harder to do and pretty much means that they work in black and white.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Trevor Haddrell – Il Ponte Veccio, Florence

I was really aware of this difference at the exhibition, where many of the Japanese artists produced fluid works in colour while the British artists produced finely etched monochrome prints.

Interestingly, the Japanese artists were much more likely to produce abstracts while the British artists were almost 100% representational, with a strong emphasis on landscape and animals.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Keiko Fujishima – Effervescence in Life

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Susan Ray – Pot Bellies

The British works were also smaller – partly I suppose because of the difficulty of getting suitable wood in large enough pieces. It meant you had to get quite close up and peer at them to appreciate them.

You can get an idea of the difference from these two general views. This is the Japanese section:

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

And this is the British section with some tiny prints set in large frames.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

What else was different? Well, I thought the British artists’ work had a more academic feel, as you can perhaps see from the following two pictures. The first is by a Japanese artist (the picture at the top of this post is a detail from it), the second by a British artist.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Keisei Kobayashi – Eden 08B

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Andrew Seaby – Humbug Damsels

Though British artists could be quite humorous too, as in this print, titled In Safe Hands.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Chris Pig – In Safe Hands

Here’s what I mean about abstract versus representational in a pair of colour prints:

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Mitsuru Hiraki – Fruits in September

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Chris Daunt – Beverly and Arthur

I’ll end with my two favourites – an exploded overhead view of New York and a lively and dramatic owl.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Yasushi Tanaka – Old Memory of the Rooster

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

Colin See-Paynton – Owl-Light

The Society of Wood Engravers was founded in 1920 by a group of artists including Eric Gill and Lucien Pissarro. Their exhibition at the Bankside Gallery (next to the Tate Modern) continues until 23 February. The works are for sale, many at prices under £100. The gallery is open daily 11 am to 6 pm.

Bankside Gallery Wood Engravers

8 thoughts on “Wood Engravings at the Bankside Gallery

  1. Wow, dear Fran – I so enjoy these images that you send. As I have said before, I live in Wild, wet and windy west wales and you are really cheering up my days with these wonderful images.
    Thank you ,
    Anna Jones


  2. These are all gorgeous – it’s an almost impossible job picking favourites. But I think the pot-bellied pigs and Effervesence are probably the ones I like best – though I love the fishy one too…


  3. The contrasts you’ve identified between Japanese and British artists are fascinating – definitely an exhibition I’ll have to see in person myself! Thanks for the heads up, and the as-ever informative review. Jx


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