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Norske artister I: Rolf Nesch

I first came across the work of artist Rolf Nesch twenty years ago, in a printmaking manual that was lying around the studio of my etching teacher in London. Recently I saw images of his work online while I was searching for something else, and when I looked at more of his work, I was blown away by it.

Nesch was actually a German, born in 1893. He fought in WWI, was considered as one of the German Expressionist painters, and only moved to Norway after the Nazis assumed power in Germany in the early 1930s. Unfortunately for Nesch, and the Norwegian people, Hitler followed him north less than a decade later. But that's another story.

It was in Norway that Nesch came into his own as an artist, mainly in the area of printmaking. He was one of the first people to experiment with collagraph, the technique of making printing plates either out of found materials or by gluing objects to a surface (then inking and printing them). You could just lift the first ten images from a Google image search, and find something beautiful and striking in each one of them. There are etchings that have a dreamy, Chagall-like quality:


There are collagraphs that combine stylised figures with bold, graphic shapes and colours:


And, of course, his heavyweight collagraphs:


These were made from pieces of cut and shaped steel, and which required layering the plates with up to eight felt blankets before they could be rolled through the printing press (in order for the steel rollers of the press to press the paper into the plate without either tearing the paper or damaging the roller). There is a great video on YouTube showing how Nesch did this:



Nesch became a Norwegian citizen in 1946, and a museum dedicated to his work opened in Oslo in 1993. If I ever make it back to Norway, I will make sure to visit and enjoy this master-printmaker's work up close.

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