Sunday, June 26, 2011

A discovery in northern Michigan

Well, a discovery for me, at least. Someone introduced me to the work of Gwen Frostic when I was teaching at Interlochen, in northern Michigan. Her studio is only about 30 minutes' drive from Interlochen, in fact. I'd seen postcards of her relief prints for sale in frou-frou gift-shops around the area, but I tended to skirt past them, surrounded as they normally are by the usual floral-style paraphernalia of provincial tourism. The way she's marketed, as a kind of 'hullo clouds hullo sky isn't nature wonderful' pantheist, also put me off.

Relief print by Gwen Frostic

Then our friend Anne-Marie Oomen, writer and host of the Writers' Retreat we were teaching at last week, told us that she was collaborating with a dancer on a project drawing on material from Gwen Frostic's oeuvre. When we had dinner at Anne-Marie's beautiful house deep in the woods near Empire, Michigan, she brought out a stack of Frostic's printed books. Looking through them, I saw affinities with Japanese printmaking that I hadn't seen before - and which would be difficult to surmise by glancing at a postcard. In fact, her visual style is very fine, with just the right balance of simple shapes, detailed linework, and light-toned colours that work best with relief prints (linocut and woodcut).

Double page from a Frostic book

Much of her writing is not to my taste (to use a polite phrase). But leafing through her books, most of which I believe she only started creating when she was in middle age, was a great pleasure -- particularly in a week when I was working on reduction linocuts for the ICCA printmaking class:

'Green Bench', 8-colour reduction linocut, Philip Hartigan
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