Cutting away the surface to let light into the world
The highlight of last year’s carnival fund-raisers was the auction, organised by Julie Wassmer and myself, and held in St Peter’s Hall on Cromwell Road.
A number of prints were sold, including two linocuts, one by Ben Dickson, the other by Ben Sands. The Ben Sands was kindly donated by his son, Mat, and fetched the princely sum of £150.
My sister bought it. I’m looking at it now. It’s a black and white scene of Morris Dancers outside the East Kent on May Day 1987.
The dancers are leaping into the air, their feet off the floor, while the crowd looks on, clutching pints, or laughing and joking amongst themselves.
The image is taken from the far side of the road, outside the British Legion. There are two cars in the foreground and a couple of people trying the cross the road.
It’s a wonderfully evocative piece of work, vibrant and alive, full of incidents and wonder, all captured in exquisite detail.
You can read the faces of the characters in the crowd, and even the sky seems alive, as if the sky itself was part of the dance.
Ben Sands died in January 2016, but this year marks his centenary, in honour of which there will be a major exhibition around his birthday in July, which Mat and I will be helping to organise.
Meanwhile there will be a number of Ben Sands’ linocuts on display in a large group show on at the Horsebridge from the 11th of January till the 2nd of February.
Curated by Ben Dickson, it will feature works by linocut artists from around the country, including a number from Whitstable. There will be an opening event at 3.30 on the 11th where people can meet the artists and discuss their work.
The reason they are called linocuts is that they are cut into linoleum, but the technique works with other media as well, including wood and vinyl.
Properly speaking it is known as relief printing. The body of the medium is cut away to leave raised areas which are then inked up and pressed against paper to leave a printed impression.
There’s a wonderful quote from Ben Sands from an interview in 2003 which describes the process:
“Automatically, with practice, your mind sees that block as a field of solid black… when you start cutting you start letting the light into the block and revealing the world you are going to present to the public. Because you are letting light in all the time, every cut you make lets another streak of light in….”
I like that thought. Isn’t that what all art is in the end: a process of cutting away the surface to let the light into the world?
It reminds me of the song by Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring/ Forget your perfect offering/ There is a crack, a crack in everything/ That’s how the light gets in….”
I’m looking forward to seeing lots of light at this exhibition.
From The Whitstable Gazette 09/01/20
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