Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Drama of Black and White

A few days earlier space here was taken up with a rare book find on Japanese woodblock prints discovered in a small used bookstore. It could have been nothing less than serendipity that a day after finding this beautiful book, I came across another old book on woodblock prints in another section of the same store, this one focusing on printmakers of Latin America. I missed the book on my first day browsing because it was snugged flat on its back between two larger books on a high shelf. It is a 1946 publication titled, Portrait of Latin America As Seen by her Print Makers and contains 155 illustrations by 138 artists depicting facets of life in eighteen Latin American countries. All the prints are in black and white, which give to them a powerful sense of drama.

The examples presented in the book all have in mind a goal to reveal the temperament and inspiration of both the artists and the region they live and work in. Some is folk rather than fine art, modestly portraying the local scene or characteristics of the inhabitants. In his Introduction, French illustrator and painter Jean Charlot, a longtime resident of Mexico, warns that in order to appreciate the prints one must be aware of the milieu from which they spring, a world quite divergent from average twentieth century ways in Europe and North America.

But rather than relying on explanations or theories that try to translate the artist’s power, better to first of all throw oneself into the prints of these artists and feel for his special vision through nothing more than black ink on paper. Below are four prints that especially caught my eye.

This lithograph is by well known Mexican artist and social realist, David Alfaro Siqueiros (1898-1974). The work is titled simply Profiles. Along with Diego Rivera, Siqueiros was a member of the Communist Party and a well-known artist for most of his life. Accentuation of the angles of the body, its muscles and joints is very often a common feature in the work of Siqueiros, yet this lithograph stands out for the flowing curves of his subject’s face.

The artist is Salvadorian José Mejía Vides (1903-1993) and the woodcut is titled Panchimaco, which is the name of the village in this composition. Vides was a painter and graphic artist who studied at the National School of Graphic Arts in Mexico.

A wood engraving by Chilean artist, Marco A. Bonta (1889-?) called The Baking Oven. Almost an aroma of baking bread lifting off the page in this work.

Italian born artist Victor Rebuffo (1903-1983), immigrated to Argentina with his family at the age of three. He was a graphic artist who studied at the National Academy. The wood engraving here is titled Bread and challenges the viewer to paint his own backstory into the moment between the two figures.


  1. Wonderful woodblock prints. Easy to see why you got the book. I especially love the one of the village. Want the original hanging on my wall.

  2. Thanks for the pointer towards the book, just ordered a copy. We've collected some engravings by Mejía Vides at under woodcuts.

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About Me

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America