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

Updated: May 2, 2022

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

In the last blog post, I talked about how my research of Chinese modern propaganda posters led me down the rabbit hole of woodcuts. In the end, I took the New Woodcut Movement in 1930 China as a point of departure for my works.

China had been using woodcuts for over 1000 years, mainly as religious text and novel illustrations or folk holiday decoration. These were printed on inexpensive paper. The process was streamlined—the designer, carver and printer were three different people. They were produced in factory-style.

The world's very first woodcut, the Diamond Sutra from Tang Dynasty China, AD 868 (© British Library)

Typical Chinese New Year woodcut

Writer and scholar Lu Xun encouraged Chinese artists to adopt woodcuts, an inexpensive and convenient medium (one you can easily travel and work with in poor conditions) as artists, not as craftsmen.

Lu Xun in the style of modern propaganda poster

Fun note: if you haven't read his novellas "The True Story of Ah Q" and "A Madman's Diary", you should rush out and get a copy now. I remember being fascinated by Ah Q at the age of 13.

OK, back to woodcuts. What does that actually mean? According to Lu, craftsmen were merely copying. They were only getting their job done. They didn't have a burning message for the world. They didn't want to change the world. They didn't want to save the world. Artists clearly did.

That means an artist would have a strong message to deliver with his (oh yes, only his) art, and that the same artist would design, carve and print the woodcut. The elaborate painting set-up was replaced by literally a knife and a piece of wood. So he could easily travel to war zones or impoverished neighbourhoods.

In August 1931, Lu Xun invited Japanese artist Uchiyama Kakechi to conduct the very first historic woodcut demonstration in China.

The very first artist artist woodcut workshop in China with Uchiyama Kakechi

My pupils dilated reading this! This works for Polluta on multiple levels. Lu Xun’s intention to glorify the working class perfectly mirrors my intention to glorify Polluta!

My Polluta woodblock

During a long research period, it is often clear to the artist when the eureka moment hits. Jackpot! All the loose ends wiggle together to form coherent and holistic connections. The artist no longer feels like there are burning unanswered questions. At this point, it is time to move on to the next stage.


My Polluta woodblock

Just to recap, my research process informed and thus influenced some artistic choices:

· I decided to only use a monochromic palette to mirror the monochromatic and contrasty style of the historic woodcuts.

· It was a no-brainer to use oil-based ink because that’s what the New Woodcut Movement artists used. Think of the connotation to use a European art material when China was closed off to the rest of the world.

· I would include ridiculously optimistic text to glorify Polluta to parallel the slogans on the historical prints.

My Polluta woodblock

However, to maintain my own artistic integrity and personality, I also made some choices:

original cloud-dragon rice paper

· I insisted on using my signature paper: cloud dragon handmade rice paper. This is handmade bamboo rice paper from China’s Anhui province. I have now been using this paper for 8 years.

· The imagery would be more fantastical rather than realistic.

· I would find all excuses to depict the fantastic animals residing at Polluta.

In the next post, I will talk about the (very long and ongoing) journey after I decided to embark on this body of works.

If you have enjoyed this post, leave a comment and let me know! I would love to hear from you! You can also enjoy more of my Polluta woodcuts here.


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My Polluta woodblocks


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