THE RENOWNED PRINTMAKER EXPLORES PARALLELS BETWEEN HIS WORK AND JAPANESE LANDSCAPES
By Lucy Birmingham, Arts Writer, METROPOLIS Magazine (Tokyo, Japan)-Aug 1,2008 issue #749
CANADIAN ARTIST GEORGE RAAB brings the untouched mystery, dramatic seasonal moods and gentle hues of the Canadian wilderness to Japan for the first time with a remarkable exhibition of 60 etchings at the Embassy of Canada Prince Takamado Gallery. Raab’s widely shown works are renowned for their beauty and unusually large size. This exhibition represents 25 years of his career—similar to a retrospective—and is perhaps the most extensive show he has ever mounted. For audiences here it has been a delight to see the uncanny similarities between Raab’s Canadian landscapes and those of Japan by Japanese artists.
“After university and art college, I bought some acreage in a remote wilderness area north of Toronto,” Raab tells Metropolis via email. “It was there that I built my first studio and spent a number of years figuring out what I wanted to express as an artist and how to best do that.”
Amid the solitude, Raab was inspired by the forests, hills and lakes that surround his studio. He created his etching style by combining drawing, photography, traditional intaglio printmaking and painting. All his original prints are inked, wiped and printed by hand on his manual press. Some are watercolored.
“Lone Pine” probably best represents Raab’s popular winter scenes. The sepia tone reminds one of a lovely old postcard—perhaps a quieter, less composed Ansel Adams. The central naked tree combined with a lake and mountains offers a visual pull away from the surrounding detail. “I am more interested in portraying my emotional response to the atmosphere of a place than recording the representational details,” he says.
Raab’s nature etchings are generally small scale, limited by the size of both fine art-etching plates and his etching press. He’s been able to create larger works by extending the length of his plate steel press bed and butting multiple etching plates together to create diptychs and triptychs on single sheets of paper six feet long.
In the center of the exhibition is a series of large forest landscape etchings mounted on a screen-like construction similar to a Japanese byobu folding screen. “I wanted to challenge myself to try something I had not done before,” Raab says. “My intention was to create a bridge between my landscape imagery and a traditional Japanese presentation.” The pieces act as a divider and make a strong statement in the large gallery space. “The fine textures and tones, the rich blacks and delicate lines are all present in my large works. I enjoy pushing the threshold and combining 21st-century technology and presentation with the centuries-old material and techniques of intaglio printmaking.”
Although this was his first time to Japan, Raab is knowledgeable about the country’s art and artists. “I am a big fan of traditional Japanese woodblock prints,” he writes. “I enjoy Hasui, Hiroshige, and I was recently introduced to the contemporary color mezzotints of Hamaguchi.” A Japanese aesthetic and philosophy runs through his work. “I think my artwork shares a similar relationship with nature as depicted through Japanese literature and visual art; a spiritual connection to the timeless beauty and mystery of the natural physical environment and one’s solitary search for meaning within it.”