Villages within a Village

The recently completed Plainsboro Public Library is in the heart of a village – albeit a newly fabricated village — with cafes, ethnic restaurants, a bakery, even a fountain in a piazza. So it is fitting that an art exhibit in the library includes many scenes of villages.

The Gallery at Plainsboro Public Library is exhibiting Ingrid Davis: White-line Woodcuts through Aug. 31. Davis’s woodcuts let the wood speak – in the brightly colored prints, the grain of the wood becomes part of the image.

With giclees and digital prints preoccupying many printmakers these days, it’s fun to see a form of printmaking that dates to the early 1900s, and makes use of simple tools and the hand.

In a self-portrait, Davis uses the white line to break down the surface planes of her face. In other works she uses the line as a border in, say, houses in a village, or lines of a leaf. The grain of the wood creates texture in the color itself.

A gaggle of geese is patterned in a way that suggests Moroccan tiles. Davis appears to be well-traveled. Rather than collect photographs that sit on her hard drive, she creates editions of prints that seek to study and understand places visited.

The artist adores villages: in Greece, villages with tiled roofs atop bleached adobe buildings; German villages with Tudor architecture; a village along a canal in Italy (she also seems to have a reverence for boats reflecting in water, a subject that works well with the white-line woodcut).

There’s a beautiful fishmonger in a place that looks like the Alhambra, with a lone figure descending the steps behind her. Davis’s image titled “Distant Vineyards” is more about the village in the foreground, and the texture of its cobblestone streets. There’s even a print of a stein, larger than life, detailing a painted village on it.

White-line woodcuts originated in Provincetown, Mass., in 1915. Western artists had long emulated the Japanese woodblock prints, and found a way to create their own form.

The white-line woodcut involves incising a grooved line in the wood, separating each adjacent area of color. Printmaking paper is attached to the top of the block, and using watercolors, separate areas of the block are painted with a brush. The paper is then flipped on top of the block, and the back of the paper burnished with a bamboo paddle or spoon, transferring color to the paper. This process is repeated section by section until the print is completed. The watercolor gives the print a translucence, and incorporates the grain of the wood into the design. Each print made from the block has distinctive qualities. Few contemporary artists work in white-line woodcut.

Raised in West Berlin, Davis moved to the U.S. as a young adult and worked primarily in oils and pastels. During a six-year residency in Japan, she developed an interest in rice paper collage. A course in etching sparked her interest in printmaking, and eventually led her to the white-line woodcut. She studied at the Art Students League, the Brooklyn Museum School of Art, and Parson’s School of Design. The East Windsor resident has created original print calendar collections for institutions such as The Corcoran Gallery of Art, Georgetown University, The National Museum of American History, and the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

While visiting the library, be sure to check out the larger-than-life puppets on the first floor. Oh, and there are books there too.

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