She carves a unique niche of her own

Neighbors

Columbia artist blends printmaking techniques, vibrance of watercolors

February 02, 2007|By Janet Gilbert

Columbia artist Aline Feldman is always looking ahead - as well as up, down, and sideways.

"I think we experience life that way - from multiple perspectives," she said.

Feldman, 78, brought out her print, Angle of Change. The print has six separate yet cohesive images, and it can be appreciated top to bottom, side to side - even "around," in a circular manner.

Feldman blended traditional Japanese woodcut printmaking methods with the American "whiteline" technique developed by a group of printmaking artists in Provincetown, Mass., in the early 1900s. Further modifying these techniques with her use of carving tools and vibrant watercolor pigment, Feldman creates color prints from a single block of wood.

Feldman's prints can be seen in the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Museum of Women in the Arts, as well as in more than 25 public collections. Her work was selected to be exhibited, beginning Tuesday, in the lower office building of the House of Delegates in Annapolis as part of the Maryland Sister States art exchange program with the Prefecture of Kanagawa in Japan. Feldman's work also was selected by the Curator of Prints at the Worcester Art Museum to participate in the Sixty Years of North American Prints exhibit at the Boston University Art Gallery, opening Thursday.

Some of Feldman's work is on display at Howard County Center for the Arts as part of its Imprint: 10 Contemporary Printmakers exhibit through Feb. 23.

Feldman said she fell in love with the prints of renowned 20th-century Japanese printmaker Unichi Hiratsuka - who had been designated "sacred national treasure" by the emperor of Japan - when she came upon his studio in Washington in 1962.

"To see something that original, done in watercolor, and yet so strong," she said, describing Hiratsuka's work. "I was struck by the dichotomy - that the delicacy of water and pigment could be so powerful."

Feldman explained that, at the time, there was a kind of "attitude" surrounding the use of watercolors - that it was a medium for the hobbyist, or considered "lady's art" in a deprecating way.

Feldman studied woodcut with Hiratsuka, and eventually came to a place where she said, "I discovered I was asking questions he didn't have answers for.

"I made my own footsteps in the sand. That accounts for my different way of doing things. Of course, there are books [on technique] now - but there weren't back then."

Feldman described her artistic process, which begins naturally with an idea. Feldman has drawn inspiration from rural landscapes and city streets.

"What surrounds us is so important," she said.

Feldman has photographed and sketched from helicopters and skyscrapers. "Nature naturally abstracts itself," she said. She often requests a window seat on an airplane, and may sketch a scene that inspires her.

In her basement studio, she demonstrated her technique. "It starts with a charcoal drawing," she said. Several are tacked up in her studio. Feldman said she likes working on a number of projects at one time. She traces her drawing on tissue, then pastes it onto a piece of pine.

Next, Feldman carves the wood. And here is where the process gets American-style creative and unconventional.

"I like to go into a kitchen store and see what [kitchen tools] will make a mark," she said.

Feldman routinely uses a pastry crimper, a tenderizing mallet, even a sewing tracing wheel, in addition to authentic Japanese and American carving tools. After carving, Feldman washes off the tissue and begins painting the wood.

"The wood has a memory," she said. Feldman often goes back three of four times - overprinting - to achieve an effect, painting one shape at a time, then placing her dry "Okawara" paper on top, and burnishing it with a tool called a "baren."

Feldman keeps the paper aligned with heavy, stream-worn stones she has collected from West Virginia and Maine.

"The Japanese use weights," she said, "but the edges could tear your paper. And your hand gets hot when you're working - you can just put it on the stone."

Feldman explained how what you see painted on the board is the exact opposite of what you see on the print. But the effect of the "white lines" caused by her carving - where the absence of paint reveals the absence of color - or, more accurately, the white of the paper - renders the print astoundingly different.

"It gives it sparkle and luminosity," said Feldman.

Feldman is working on a series called Museum Scenes, wherein she conveys a particular scene looking out from the inside of a museum. In 1867, Claude Monet painted views of Paris from inside the Louvre. "There's no such thing as an original idea, is there?" Feldman said.

Feldman also is working on a Hawaiian series and is experimenting with her fascination with vistas involving scaffolding and cranes. She and her youngest daughter recently returned from Japan, and Feldman has a sketchbook full of concepts.

"I know what my first Japanese print is going to be," she said. "The train station in Tokyo at night."

She added, "A lot is in my head. I train my visual memory so that when I see something very interesting, I look at it very carefully."

Aline Feldman's work is on display at Howard County Center for the Arts, 8510 High Ridge Road, Ellicott City. Information: 410-313-2787, or www.hocoarts.org.

Neighbors

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Is there an event that everyone in Howard County should be aware of? If there is, Janet Gilbert, our neighbors reporter, wants to know about it.

E-mail Janet at janetgilbertsun@verizon.net, or call 410-313-8276. Janet also has a Web site: www.janet gilbertonline.com

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