Into the Wood

Into the Wood

Snow falls in heavy streaks, puddling on top of a black umbrella. Footprints on the street show dark pavement underneath. A figure in an overcoat pauses, turned away from us, head hidden by the slightly tipped umbrella. The walker has taken a step back from their last set of footprints as if to assess: How deep is it going to get?

The image is printed from a woodcut, the details of the scene relatively crude compared to what a photograph or a pen and ink drawing can capture. But it’s the suggested details—the dark shades of dusk, the splotches of snow—that make Grey December and 17 other prints by artist Kraig Binkowski so intriguing.

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They’re on display in Wood and Ink at DaSilva Gallery in Westville through October 5. Gallery owner Gabriel DaSilva first discovered Binkowski’s work at City-Wide Open Studios last fall and offered him a show shortly thereafter. He points out some of his favorite pieces, noting intricacies like snow sticking to the power lines that scallop from lower left to upper right in March Snow. “For a wood block, this is not an easy thing to do,” DaSilva says.

Included in the exhibition is a glass case of Binkowski’s tools that offer the uninitiated an idea of what goes into making one of these prints: rollers, various knives, special ink, a bamboo “baren” used to press the back of the paper against the block. Two small prints are displayed beside the wood cuts that created them. One picks up the grain of the wood itself.

Binkowski says he’s been working mostly in two colors recently, giving the prints a three-color palette: black ink, gray ink and white or cream-colored Japanese paper, so thin it’s almost translucent. In order to work with two colors of ink, Binkowski must cut two wood blocks and align them perfectly when one layer is printed over the other. The effect is most obvious in Passing Storm, in which bulging clouds hang low over a city building in contrast with the tall, slender shape of a woman on the front porch. She leans almost into the rain that falls in a silvery gray curtain before her. Light gray gives way to black in the textured white wall of the building.

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The expressive details of Binkowski’s human figures are remarkable as well. A woman in Winter Wind looks strained as she glances at her companion while holding her umbrella against the driving snow. Concentration marks the face of a woman reading in Winter Lunch Break; the brightest spot in the print is the open face of her book. In Natalie in the Wind, the artist’s daughter gazes serenely at a point far beyond the frame, clutching her coat closed with one hand.

Binkowski often works from photographs or uses live models, first sketching his ideas before drawing them on the wood block. “I like to leave room for it to change and alter a little bit as I’m transitioning from an additive process”—the drawing—”to a reductive process, where you’re cutting away white lines,” he says. The artist was drawn to working with wood in part because of the “really graphic quality of stark black against white paper” as well as the simple tactile pleasure of carving it. In his spare time, he builds wood furniture, too. But he sees a closer connection between carving woodblocks and his day job as a librarian and archivist at the Yale Center for British Art. “There are a lot of detail-oriented aspects to both of them,” he says.

Technique, plans and materials aside, ultimately every piece is a surprise, Binkowski says. “Any printmaking technique, it’s indirect from the way you envisioned it in your mind. That’s one of the reasons I like it a lot… because I like it to take shape on its own.”

The surprise belongs to the viewer, too, as a stroll through the gallery reveals the pathos and the beauty of these intimate portraits and inclement cityscapes captured with wood and ink.

Wood and Ink by Kraig Binkowski
DaSilva Gallery – 897-899 Whalley Ave, New Haven (map)
Tues-Thurs 10am-5:30pm, Fri-Sat 10am-5pm through October 5
(203) 387-2539 |…

Written and photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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