International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive: Discussing the Contemporary Value of Traditional Printmaking

FROM: iapa.cafa.edu.cn TIME:

(by SUE WANG on Nov 10, 2017 • 11:12 pm)
The contemporary development of printmaking art is an important topic in the whole development of contemporary art.

The International Academic Printmaking Alliance was initiated and established by the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2016, and an international printmaking exhibition was held in the Imperial Ancestral Temple Art Museum in September of the same year. Fan Di’an, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, said that the establishment of the International Academic Printmaking Alliance meant that it offered a new platform to different international academies in the teaching of printmaking and the research of printmaking. It is a new opportunity for promoting the contemporary development of printmaking and the international exchange of printmaking teaching.

On the morning of November 7, 2017, the latest event of the International Academic Printmaking Alliance in 2017 – “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive” opened at the CAFA Art Museum. The exhibition is sponsored by the Central Academy of Fine Arts, jointly organized by the Department of Printmaking of the School of Plastic Arts at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and the International Academic Printmaking Alliance. Wang Huaxiang, Chairman of the International Academic Printmaking Alliance and Director of the Department of Printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, acts as the Chief Curator, while Peter Bosteels, Dean of Printmaking Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium/ A PUniversity College, and Geri Waddington, Chairman of The Society of Wood Engravers in the UK, act as the sub-curators, and Yang Hongwei, Secretary-General of the International Academic Printmaking Alliance and Deputy Director of the Department of Printmaking at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, is the Executive Curator of the exhibition.

“International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive” is the first large-scale exhibition in China to showcase the contemporary state of wood engraving in the world. The exhibition presents more than 200 works by over 100 artists from nine countries, including the United Kingdom, the United States, Belgium, France, Russia, Bulgaria, Italy and China, covering the classical, modern and contemporary areas.

At the opening ceremony, Fan Di’an, President of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, said that, “Wood Engraving” was a wood engraving form that people were addicted to, on the one hand, it embodied the natural attributes of wood and on the other hand it showed the artist’s concentrated creative emotions. “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive” brings together the artists and works from different international colleges and universities, to study how to make the traditional printmaking form of wood engraving which now has a better development and is meaningful. President Fan Di’an pointed out: “Linking the tradition with the future is our academic responsibility today.”

Originated in the United Kingdom, Wood Engraving usually chooses to use a special knife made of a solid steel bar to carve, engraving on the fine, adamant end grained surface, because the wood fibers are uniformly erected, without distinction between the vertical and horizontal textures, which are not easy to crack, suitable for engraving, thus finer lines and more delicate changes on the layers could be achieved, then wood engraving carries the expression of woodblock print to the extreme. Wood engraving breaks with the main expressive means of black lines in traditional woodcuts and uses a range of degrees of gray, from black to white to compose its image, which makes the picture more delicate.

China is the birthplace of printmaking – the oldest woodblock print that exists in the world can be traced back to the Buddhist painting of the Vajracchedika-Sutra, found in the Dunhuang Grottoes, which was carved in the 9th year of Xian Tong of the Tang Dynasty (AD 868), which was five hundred years earlier than the woodblock print found in Europe. During a long period, although the tradition of woodblock print developed both in the Orient and Europe, different approaches were developed due to different humanities and different cultural connotations. Geri Waddington, Chairman of The Society of Wood Engravers in the UK, pointed out this remarkable difference: the most obvious thing was the chromatography of the oriental print which was in stark contrast to the black-and-white line engraving of the medieval European woodblock print, while the artists who drew images with lines and the artists who engraved wood formed a different division of labor. Wood engraving was not imported into China until the mid-20th century, and China was not familiar with this technique of printmaking before it was introduced to China.

The British printmaker Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) expanded and improved the techniques and materials of traditional woodblock printing, through wood engraving to revive woodblock printing and he was known as the “Father of Wood Engraving”. He used the end grain surface rather than wood plate to engrave, which did not only engrave more exquisite lines, but also made the wood surprisingly durable – depending on statistics, some wood engravings by Bewick were already printed 900,000 times when Bewick was still alive, nowadays we are still able to use many wood plates for printing clear images and these also feature some of the works in the “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive”.
Along with the dramatic improvement and development of the technology of photography & printing, the development of printmaking is facing difficulties. Especially the wood engraving which was characterized by “the earlier pioneers that led to mechanical reproduction” has gradually lost the advantage in visual image communication. Peter Bosteels, Dean of Printmaking Department at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Antwerp, Belgium/ A PUniversity College and a wood engraver, said that wood engraving was a technique “hovering in the dark”. The disappearance of commercial functions, a large number of professional engravers changing their profession and the loss of students led to the reduction of teaching, the complex skills making beginners retreat and the public aesthetic of printmaking has gradually subsided, making the future of wood engraving more difficult.

Under this background, the Central Academy of Fine Arts held the “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive” with a special mission and the contemporary value. The International Academic Printmaking Alliance was initiated and established to promote the printmaking academic development, researching & exploring the irreplaceability of printmaking in the context of global contemporary culture & contemporary art. In addition to the holding of “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive”, it will also hold symposiums from November 17 to November 18, to focus on the contemporary development & current status of the traditional skills of wood engraving. Meanwhile, the organizer invites the engravers from the United Kingdom, Belgium and Italy to participate in a typical workshop of wood engraving for engravers.

Although printmaking is no longer a mainstream art in the contemporary art field, with the efforts of many printmakers, we find some surprising changes taking place in the industry – people gradually rediscover the value and quality of printmaking, and the students are interested in the latent energy of printmaking again, in the emerging art language, ancient crafts have been paid more attention in the new visual communication, which is the purpose for the establishment of The International Academic Printmaking Alliance.

At the dawn of the global information age, how to make wood engraving become embodied in the value of the unique language and develop a new artistic expression in the face of a new development of global science & technology, and adapting the contemporary artistic environment, thereby to burst a new vitality under the support of new technology, new media and new methods, is the most important value for hosting this “International Grand Exhibition for Wood Engraving and Historical Archive”.

Text by Lin Jiabin, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
Photo by Yang Yanyuan/CAFA ART INFO
Photos of works courtesy of the organizer