ANITA KLEIN LINOCUTS
Linoleum was patented in 1863 and is most commonly known as a household floor covering. Durable and yet relatively easy to cut, artists soon recognised its potential as a printmaking material and by the early twentieth century the linocut had emerged as an art form in its own right. The perceived simplicity of linocut however and its widespread use as a teaching method for school children saw it struggle for acceptance as a fine art technique and lino cutting was often unfavourably contrasted with the refined skill and craft of wood engraving. Established artists would often label their linocuts as woodcuts to avoid critical disapproval and this contributed to the medium’s reputation as a lesser art form.
Despite this, major artists returned repeatedly to the linocut throughout the twentieth century and tellingly it was the very simplicity of the medium that provided the attraction. Matisse found the fluid ease of the lino cut to be the perfect vehicle for the supple draughtsmanship of his ‘Pasiphae Suite’ of 1944 and likened cutting the lino block with a gouge (cutting tool) to the movement of a bow across the strings of a violin. Picasso was seduced by the speed with which he could experiment with line and expressive colour through the medium. Typically he took this a stage further with his invention of the reduction or ‘suicide’ cut which allowed him to create multiple colour compositions from a single lino block (instead of cutting a new block for each colour.) The extraordinarily beautiful linocuts he produced during a sustained period of activity in the 1950’s and 60’s stand comparison with the finest of his graphic works. In England during the 1930’s, artists of the Grosvenor School, led by Claude Flight, saw in lino cutting’s facility and affordability the potential to make fine art practice accessible to a wider public. They also saw the medium as perfectly suited to depicting the frantic, restless pace of modern life. These precedents offer a clue as to why Anita Klein has engaged so successfully with the possibilities of the linocut and we have been extremely privileged to witness at first hand how Anita has rapidly mastered a new artistic language.
‘Angel of the Hedge’, 2008 (fig.1) was one of the first examples of Anita revisiting linocut since her time at the Slade and in common with her familiar dry point images, she was clearly drawn to the generous possibilities for line drawing afforded by the medium. Future developments are hinted at by Anita’s experiment of printing a lighter colour over a dark ground so that the carved line would be revealed in black. This is progressed further in pieces such as ‘Spring Waking Up’, 2009 (fig. 2) where the sinuous potential for drawing/carving is realised to full effect.
A step change can be seen in works such as ‘Bird in Spring‘(fig.3) and ‘Bird in a Red Sky’ (fig.4) both from 2011, when the dramatic introduction of colour coincided with Anita’s discovery of a new range of printing inks. This opened up a wealth of opportunities for Anita and she clearly relished how lino cutting allowed her to explore ideas almost as quickly as she could come up with them. Progress was swift and the summer of 2011 saw Anita intertwine the colour and line of her linocut work with increasing sophistication. ‘November’, 2011 (fig.5) with its bold swathes of vivid colour counterpointing the intricate carving of the composition is a particularly successful image in this regard. Furthermore, as an interpretation of a canvas from her exhibition ‘Through the Looking Glass’ (June 2011) that had marked such a major step forward in her painting practice, ‘November’ suggests how her linocuts might enable Anita to forge a new dialogue between her painting and printmaking.
A real momentum was now behind Anita’s linocuts and an exciting body of work had evolved over a very short space of time. ‘Poppies’ (fig.6) of Autumn 2011 can be seen as something of a watershed. We can vividly recall Anita showing it to us in her studio and the thrill we both felt on seeing what is surely a defining work for the first time, is fondly remembered. An ambitious synthesis of bold colour, composition and technical daring (witness the white ink printed over black to create the pattern of the table cloth) ‘Poppies’ eloquently expresses the lessons Anita had absorbed to date and serves as a confident herald of the even more sophisticated work to come.
But what is it about the linocut that has provided Anita with such a fruitful challenge? To these engrossed observers it seems that, quite simply, Anita has found in lino a medium that can keep up with her. Anita’s growing mastery of the linocut has allowed her to give full rein to all the primary preoccupations of her practice: bold, expressive colour, fluid, confident line, and deceptively simple design, while working at a pace that allows new ideas to flourish and take flight. Such fluency is rare indeed for even the most technically proficient printmaker. When harnessed by Anita’s sheer hard work and dedication to creating, the result is astonishing and increasingly ambitious compositions have issued from Anita’s studio on an almost weekly basis.
This catalogue represents a formidable and beautiful body of work but it is also a testament to an artistic imagination at full throttle. It is exhilarating to behold.
Rebecca & Vincent Eames
The Fine Art Partnership, Spring 2012