Viewpoints

The Figure: Diverse, Poetic and Compelling

 

1 The Figure: Diverse, Poetic and Compelling

This gallery underscores the diverse, poetic and compelling figurative work within the Impress print collection by examining the theme of the figure through a variety of creative strategies and print media, and within different cultural traditions and historic periods. Biography Sean Caulfield is a Canada Research Chair (Printmaking) in the Department of Art and Design at the University of Alberta. Caulfield has exhibited his prints and drawings in a wide range of national and international exhibitions throughout Canada, the United States, Europe and Japan.

2 Starry Night

Starry Night
Starry Night, no date
Rockwell Kent

Kent’s image is an evocative and romantic lithograph that utilizes strong light and dark contrasts in order to create a powerful sense of mystery. The central shaft of light, which is abstracted and pushes against the picture plane, is a striking visual devise that evokes a sense of anxiety and expectancy – what awaits the figure outside the doorway? Is it something to be feared or welcomed?

3 Blueprint

Blueprint
Blueprint,
William (Bill) John Houston Laing

In this print, Laing has skillfully utilized the medium of silkscreen to create an image that fluctuates between abstraction and figuration. The figure seems to float behind veils of color, texture and pattern, and is simultaneously in a state of emerging and disappearing, suggesting that the ghost-like silhouette could be the residue of a dream or memory. Viewers are reminded that the everyday objects and patterns that surround us can often bring up voices and memories from the past.

4 The Messenger

The Messenger
The Messenger,
David Blackwood

Blackwell’s intaglio print The Messenger makes use of a sophisticated and subtle composition to develop a complex relationship between the figures populating this dark landscape. One is left with a sense of uncertainty about the content of the message, as well as whom the messenger actually is. This sense of uncertainty and foreboding is furthered by the raw and aggressive way the figures are rendered through line etching, as well as the shift of color that occurs between them. Given the gloom that surrounds the group, it is clear that these are individuals who have lived a life of adversity and struggle.

5 Great Mummer

Great Mummer
Great Mummer,
David Blackwood

In this powerful portrait, Blackwell utilizes layers of aquatint and line etching to create an image in which light seems to radiate out from within the figure. This eerie glow is disconcerting, giving the face a specter-like quality that leaves one with a sense that this is an apparition that should be both feared and welcomed.

6 Ned Kelly

Ned Kelly
Ned Kelly,
James Westergard

In this portrait of Ned Kelly, Westergard makes use of sensitive block cutting to render the surface and volume of this famous outlaw’s helmet. The tightly cropped composition conveys a claustrophobic feeling, and the eyes that gaze at the viewer through the narrow slit of this surreal head armor seem at once aggressive and helpless.

7 The Stairway

The Stairway
The Stairway, ca. 1930
Edwin Headley Holgate

The Stairway has a complex and dynamic composition that exploits the graphic nature of relief printing in order to produce strong light and dark contrasts. But it also reveals subtler passages in the shadow areas that express considerable atmosphere and depth. Similar to Kent’s print Starry Night, The Stairway has a sense of mystery and expectancy. However in Holgate’s image the shaft of light that is striking the figure seems more dynamic and hopeful.

8 Tattooed Faces

Tattooed Faces
Tattooed Faces,
Jessie Oonark (Una)

Jessie Oonark’s Tattooed Faces is a wonderful example of the use of economy of means in printmaking. Although the image is only made up of graphic bold lines, Oonark utilizes repetition, rhythm and subtle shifts in scale to create a print that conveys a complex space and narrative. Despite the minimal quality of the image, one is drawn into this print and can easily imagine the space these figures occupied and the dynamic relationships between them.

9 Division of Meat

Division of Meat
Division of Meat,
Akesuk Tudlik

As with Jessie Oonark’s work, Akesuk Tudlik’s print Division of Meat makes wonderful use of a minimal visual language. The figures are highly abstracted and the image fluctuates between describing a naturalistic scene and reading as a flat pattern or symbol – a sensation that seems to underscore the importance of the event being described.

10 Asakusa No Toshinuiohi [New Year in Asakusa Temple]

Asakusa No Toshinuiohi [New Year in Asakusa Temple]
Asakusa No Toshinuiohi [New Year in Asakusa Temple], ca. 1860-67
Utagawa Yoshitora

Yoshitora’s traditional Japanese woodcut Asakusa No Toshinuiohi [New Year in Asakusa Temple] is an intricate composition that utilizes a strong diagonal to move through a layered space. By contrasting the crowded urban space with a quiet landscape in the distance, viewers are given a heightened sense of the noise, activity and festive atmosphere occurring in the foreground.

11 Trout

Trout
Trout,
John Will

As with Laing and Blackwood, Trout has used printmaking to create a haunting image in which the figure has a ghost-like quality. However, with the text “oh, oh, Canada” at the top of the print the image takes on a much more pointed political message, and the apparition forces one to consider Canada’s complex history.