Why am I Making 99 Woodcuts? (1/2)

Updated: May 2


I came to embark on this 99 woodcut project out of both research and an obsession.




Back in 2015, I set out to develop the body of propaganda artworks for my imaginary artist colony Polluta. All I knew was that I wanted to use an artistic medium that could reproduce copies, instead of making a unique original piece. One thing led to another, and I found myself reading up on modern Chinese propaganda posters.



Typical modern Chinese propaganda poster. The friendship of the peoples of China and the Soviet Union is everlasting. 1962.


Classical Chinese Ink Painting by Fan Kuan. Mountain & Brook Traveler Picture. 11th century.

Classical calligraphy by Wang Xizhi. 300 AD.

Quick one-minute history lesson on modern Chinese propaganda posters. In the early 20th century China, there was a strong resistance against high art, namely classical Chinese ink paintings and calligraphy. The new visual language adopted to create these modern Chinese propaganda posters were heavily influenced by Russian realism. I roughly divide these posters into two categories: realistic oil painting or graphic prints.




Typical realistic oil painting style in modern Chinese propaganda posters.. © The Trustees of the British Museum



Typical graphic style in modern Chinese propaganda posters.

I was immediately attracted to the graphic quality. I didn’t even consider realism for one moment because it was not aligned with my own aesthetics. That means, early on in my research, I made a conscious intellectual choice to stay clear of something that would not make sense to me artistically.


First Decision made: Make Polluta works in a graphic style



The next question was, how would I incorporate this historical visual language into my Polluta story to create a happy marriage of the concept and artistic style?


To figure out:

Concept: How to connect Polluta story & modern Chinese propaganda posters art history?

Artistic Style: How to connect my personal style and modern Chinese propaganda posters’ visual language?


I vaguely felt like printmaking was the way to go but didn’t have any concrete proof. After all, it was the artistic medium to reproduce before the age of digital printing! At that time, my only prior printmaking experience was one 5x7” lino assignment during my first-year college. That means, I didn’t know how to do it at all. Even though it seemed like an insurmountable obstacle at that time, I continued with my research, believing I will somehow find a way to resolve it. I contemplated silkscreens and other printmaking media, but nothing really stood out to me. So I continued with my research with the intention to solve this problem.



My woodcut tools on one of my woodblocks

When I read about the New Woodcut Movement, I knew I hit the jackpot. The New Woodcut Movement took place in China during the 1930-40s. Writer and scholar Lu Xun advocated the use of woodcuts to portray proletarian subject matters. While this may not seem like a big deal, it was.


In the next post, I will discuss the history of the New Woodcut Movement and how I ended up incorporating that history in my own works. Until next week!


This is Part I of "Why am I Making 99 Woodcuts”? Please click here for Part II.


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Huang Xinbo, an important artist from the New Woodcut movement.

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