A Chip Off The Old Block

Woodcut Prints Featured in Fine Arts Vernissage in Montreal

Woodcut-print artwork on display in the Popop Gallery at the Belgo on Jan. 14, 2016. Photo Michael Maclean

Popop is like any other gallery space, but on Jan. 14 it hosted Off the Block’s vernissage, gathering the one-of-a-kind woodcut-print artworks of 19 Concordia fine arts students.

The gallery features prints on every wall, a few sculptures, plus interactive works. There is a tent made of a cloud-print textile and a record player in the corner, quietly spinning lathe cut vinyls.

Woodblock printing is an old technique that originated in East Asia. Today it can be done with traditional methods, or done with the advanced use of lasers.

An artist would cut their design into a woodblock by carving it out with knives, chisels and other tools. The bits they cut out remain blank, or without paint, leaving the remaining original surface-level image to show up in ink.

“It’s a really meditative process,” said Dom Camps, one of the artists and organizers. “It can be frustrating, but the wood is so tactile.”

The sheer mass of vernissage-goers would eventually warm the room to uncomfortable temperatures, yet no one seemed to notice.

Perhaps it was the good company, maybe it was the captivating artwork—or a wonderful combination of the two.

Nico Holzmann, Pierrick Hamonet and Sam Jones jam at the Off the Block vernissage on Jan. 14, 2016.

Woodcut printing is a careful relief-printing technique. Each piece is meticulous with detail. While all completely different in style, the collective art at the exhibition was tied together by the shared method by which it was created.

“Limbo” is one of the pieces that stood out the most. Named after the Radiohead song, the piece, at first glance, looks like a circuit board.

With a closer look however, one can see how the rhythms in the song are in sync with the chaotic linear visuals of the print, according to Camps.

“I’ve been working with a lot of graphic patterns; particularly grids,” Camps said. “I often take grids from computer imagery or photos of nature. Like, the grid from distorted water. I extract the pattern from that and experiment juxtapositioning it with different materials and processes.”

The differing themes in the artworks were unparalleled. In a print named “Ma belle giraffe,” a nude woman throws her arms up as she rides a male giraffe, while prairie cats scramble beneath the feet of the colossal yellow creature.

“She’s got some hair under armpits,” said Sédrick St-Jacques Couture, the artist. “She’s exploding”.

Artwork on display in the Popop Gallery at the Belgo on Jan. 14, 2016.

St-Jacques Couture noted the stark contrasts that are present among the work. “It can look kind of strange ‘cause we’re all doing different things and we don’t all have the same styles,” he said.

But somehow, the pieces all come together well. It seems no one can explain it—it just is. Meanwhile, the mystical cloud tent still hung from the ceiling, swaying.

Next to it was an attractive image, in green hues, of a rainy windshield view. Their creator, Elizabeth Xu, who is also one of the event’s organizers and a graphics contributor for The Link explained the concept behind the pieces.

“I work a lot with dreams,” she began. “The tent is based on a dream that I had that I was creating these clouds.”

The print, rather, came from a real life experience.

“I went on a road trip with my father through Guilin, China, in the middle of a rainstorm,” she said. “So to me, this was representative of a shared experience that we got to have.”

While the show in itself was representative of the incredible efforts that go into woodcut printing, it was also a reminder of the time it takes to create these pieces.

“It’s a big contrast to how we’re used to operating [in everyday life],” Xu said. “It makes you slow down and think about the process.”

Off the Block // Popop Gallery (L’édifice Belgo, 372 Ste. Catherine St. W., Suite 442-444) // Until Jan. 24, Tuesday to Sunday, 12 p.m. to 7 p.m.