University Art Gallery branches out with woodcuts

COURTESY // Gerard Desrosiers

Attendees of the “Wood, Paper, Ink: Contemporary Woodcuts” gallery entered into the museum to witness a modern take on a centuries old artistry practice. The gallery is currently hosted in the Sonoma State University Art Gallery and will be there until October 16. 

There is no cost for admission and the experience is well worth the average under-an-hour tour time it takes to pleasantly delve into each hand-crafted piece presented wall-to-wall. 

All organization and planning brought by the Gallery Director Michael Schwager and his friend and colleague, Kurt Kemp.

Many artists have their own take on the age-old medium.  From large murals that occupy great spans of wall, to stop motion animation consisting entirely from woodcut material, each piece is different from the last in terms of meaning and influence, but all share one similar theme: wood.

Such as the gallery’s first piece, “Generation Panel #3,” made by creator Donna Westerman in 2014 and courtesy of Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, it sets up the juxtaposition of a paper-based print of a design beside the same design inversely engraved into a woodcut square. Both beautiful in their own right, but interesting in the way each was formed. 

Past that, one could see two large Mylar-stretched pieces cut into wood frames that take up a majority of space on the left side wall of the room. 

A 2016 untitled creation from and contributedby Nicola Lopez stood out among others. The mix of grayscale colors and slick lines emphasize the modern look many of the gallery contributors seemed to have strived for. 

Onestudent, Caroline Griffin, commented, “It looks like it’s two separate sides of a skyscraper--maybe two different buildings, altogether. Like the lines shoot up, vertical, so I can’t shake a feeling of tallness. It could be the side of a ship, even. I don’t know, maybe a spacecraft too.” 

It’s an interesting school of thought, that art can portray something beyond the capabilities of what it’s built from. It’s not often one sees a spacecraft made from wood. Next would be “The Transformation of Brandy Baghead” from Tom Huck. A 3-panel woodcut made in 2009, this display draws attention with its colorless clash of surreal exaggeration and stylistic detail, an obvious opinion piece that boasts enormity with the meticulous craft of using every inch of panel. 

There isn’t an empty space on the three boards and it goes to show the love and effort these artists have come to call their standard, never taking a grain of wood for granted.

One of the final works during the tour is John Buck’s “Tattoo,” a three color woodcut, two color lithograph combination made in 1992, pops from the wall with its swirls of color generating the image of a burning man. It’s intimidating imagery by description, but in-person it’s nothing short of a spectacle—observing an amalgam of color, craft and profound thought it’s for sure one of the most intriguing pieces to be seen at this gallery.

Other contributing artists include Sandow Birk, Roger Herman, Anish Kapoor, Jennifer Nuss, Judy Pfaff, David Salle, Dana Schutz, Kiki Smith and Tomas Vu: all of whom utilize the medium of wood, paper and ink to the fullest their capacities and then some. Anyone can spare the time to take a trip to the gallery, and it would be ashame to see this exhibit go widely unnoticed.