by ILLI-MARIA TAMPLIN, Director, Art Gallery of Peterborough
A STREAK OF HUMOUR in artist George Raab is sometimes revealed in the titles he gives to his etchings. Recently, he has been channelling this humour into sculptures made from found objects. Raab has selectively been picking up metal parts for 15 to 20 years. A large collection of rusty metal pieces is spread out on tables and on the ground in the yard in front of the etching studio in a converted barn on his farm in the village of Millbrook, Ontario. The original intent of the objects is sometimes lost to us, but the shapes which remain are a constant source of inspiration for the artist, as are his rural surroundings. Raab contrasts his fanciful approach with the sculptures, to the contemplative process required for the etchings. The connections and references Raab makes in the sculptures are funny and free.
Raab appreciates the fact that these objects, even when transformed into sculptures, are not precious nor permanent. The rusty machined metal parts, magically assume anthropomorphic qualities in Raab’s assemblages. Even if no animal or human form is present, the piece is transformed into a vessel or vehicle for the habitation of the creature.
In selecting the subject matter for his etchings, Raab has chosen true wilderness places instead of the spectacular views of typical tourist attractions. He feels that nature is not there to amuse us. Through his etchings, Raab hopes to make us aware of the beauty of small segments of nature which we can look for and experience daily. He refers to the use of the photograph in the selection process very much as a “found” image. By framing segments with his camera viewfinder, Raab focuses on the natural life cycle of a swamp, showing us that as trees die, other plant forms begin to grow. A quiet happening in nature takes place before our eyes.
Some of the locations in Raab’s etchings are newly discovered places, such as Moresby Island. Others are neighbouring locales like the Cavan Swamp near his home. In each situation, he puts himself in close contact with nature. This experience nurtures the process of choices which Raab makes from the time of taking a photograph to exposing the image on a plate, the working and biting of the plate, until the etching is pulled from it. Raab considers his etching technique as rough, loose work. He is not interested in meticulous master techniques. He feels that this approach suits the wilderness image.
In recent years, Raab has introduced color in his work. He explains, “I was looking for a way to express myself a little more specifically in terms of atmosphere, season and the time of day. I toyed with adding color through the printmaking process but found that watercolor gave me what I was looking for — a very soft, elusive wash-like quality. I didn’t want to paint my etchings but rather to enhance the details. Color has allowed me to give more depth in terms of emotional values and has sharpened my perspective.”
The watercolor is applied to one etching at a time. It is not an assembly-line process. Raab enjoys the challenge of working on each etching to create a unique image by subtly varying the coloring. He has always worked with tonal gradations by making use of the 18th century technique of aquatinting, so-called because it was used to reproduce the wash effect of paintings. Raab has utilized the rich dark tones of the aquatint in combination with very light areas of the plate. There is often a curious backlit effect on the trees and grasses which enhances the spiritual ambience of the place. Raab’s frequent, close contact with wilderness places has made him aware of their complex intricacies. He has made us feel comfortable “where the unknown prevails”.
From the exhibition catalogue produced in conjunction with the exhibition Wild Impressions and Recycled Objects, at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, November 29, 1990 – January 6, 1991.