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This article is about a special form of woodblock printmaking - the reduction woodblock print. We at artelino encountered this technique for the first time when we received Chinese prints by two contemporary artists from the Southern province of Yunan - Ma Li (born 1958) and Zhang Xiaochun (born 1959).
The traditional technique of creating a multi-color woodblock print consists of carving one woodblock for each color. This technique has been used for instance by Japanese artists and artisans since the 18th century when pioneers like Harunobu Suzuki (1724/25-1770) made woodblock prints popular in more than one color.
Another artelino article has some more detailed information about the production process of a traditional Japanese woodblock print.
We at artelino heard for the first time about the existence of this technique, when we received prints by two contemporary Chinese printmakers in spring time of 2004. The two artists are Ma Li and Zhang Xiaochun.
We received further information from our Chinese partner about the origins of this technique. Text edited by artelino.
"The technique of Woodblock reduction prints was created by Cheng Hsu (Zheng Xu) who graduated from Yun Nan Fine Art school in 1982. In 1984, his artwork La Ku Romantic Feelings created in this technique of "woodblock reduction hand pulled limited edition printmaking" won the Golden prize of the�Sixth National Artworks Exposition."
"Later, this technique was widly used by Ma Li, Zhang Xiaochun, He Hun and other artists from Simao, a town of Yunnan province. Since then these artists have created many more wonderful reduction prints, and won many national Chinese prizes. From this development, we can recognize the deep influence of this technique."
Once our interest was roused, we made some research on the Internet and found some contemporary American printmakers who work in this technique. One of them is Andrea Rich, an internationally recognized woodblock printmaker from Santa Cruz in California. On her web site, the artist gives an illustrated explanation of how the reduction woodblock technique works - see link below.
The principle used for reduction woodblock prints, has a famous and in the meantime classical predecessor in linocut technique. The ever restless Pablo Picasso began in the 1950s to create multicolor linocuts from just one block. He cuts each color from the rest of the linocut block until only the cut-outs for the last color were left.
While the "reduction linocuts" could be basically done by a child, the application of the same principle to a woodblock is a challenging task that requires professional skill, long experience and a careful planning of the whole process in advance.
When the artist uses only one block, he prints the first color for the whole edition size after he finished the carving of one image. Then he must recarve the second image into the remainder of the same block, apply the second color and print over the impressions of the first step.
Thus for a 10 color print, the artist has to carve and print ten times on the same media. At the end of this process, the woodblock is reduced to the modest remains used to print the last color.
For art buyers and collectors, this technique has the great advantage that one can be sure that even the most successful edition cannot be extended by later impressions. The art buyer's "investment" is thus protected. No second and third editions, no A.P. (artist proofs), no H.C (hors de commerce) copies can be made after the initial first impression.
We received the following text from our Chinese partner.
Christian Daniel is a professor at the Asian and African Language Academy at the Tokyo Foreign Language Institute. Text edited by artelino.
"In the 1980s, a new technique of woodblock printmaking appeared. It is called reduction woodblock print. What is the difference from the traditional woodblock print? In brief, it is a kind of multi-color wood cut. The printmakers carve and print in the same block. All copies of the edition are printed with this block, which will then be re-carved for the next step. The finished print can never be re-edited, as the blocks were destroyed by the reduction process."
"In recent years, you can see more and more reduction woodblock prints in all kinds of art exhibitions. And it is paid more attention by artists in the field of prints. The reduction woodblock print originates from Simao, a border town in Yunan Province."
"Zheng Xu is the major representative. He graduated from Yunan Academy of Arts in 1982. In 1984, his artwork that used the technique of reduction woodblock print, won the gold medal in the sixth Chinese Art Exhibition."
"By now, the small town of Simao and reduction woodblock prints are well known to many people. Printmakers in Simao such as He Kun, Wei Qicong, Zhang Xiaochun and Ma Li begin to use this technique one after another."
Author: Dieter Wanczura
(April 2004, updated June 2009)
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Works by emerging Chinese artists in BUYDIRECT.