2017-01-06 / Ticket

The Printmaker

Artist David Morgan talks archeology, the printmaking process and Green Lion Gallery
Times Record Staff

DAVID MORGAN shows a few of his recent prints. 

David Morgan has been etching medieval inspired designs into wood blocks for more than 30 years, starting with scraps that he foraged as a woodworker. Now a full time printmaker, Morgan is sharing his work — along with those of other printmakers from around the country — at the Green Lion Gallery on Front Street in Bath. Morgan will speak about his craft at the Topsham Public Library Saturday at 11 a.m.

The Times Record visited Morgan at the Green Lion Gallery to chat about his past as a printmaker, how he settled in Bath and what inspires him as an artist.

The Times Record: How long have you been printmaking?

David Morgan: I’ve been doing prints off and on for 30 years. I was a cabinet maker and woodworker for 20 years, and before that I spent some time as an archeologist in England. I became fascinated with ancient imagery and carvings, and eventually started to take a piece of wood or a board that was headed for the fireplace and experimented with carving tools, thinking of the wood cut prints I had done in high school. It was the ancient images that fascinated me, though, and how to translate them onto a wooden block. I would do one or two a year when I had the time, and in the last couple years I’ve been lucky enough to do it full time, and have branched out to more representational art, whatever I see around that is inspiring.

DAVID MORGAN puts the finishing touches on a wood block etching. Next step: use ink, paper and the printing press to create the print. 
BEN GOODRIDGE / THE TIMES RECORD DAVID MORGAN puts the finishing touches on a wood block etching. Next step: use ink, paper and the printing press to create the print. BEN GOODRIDGE / THE TIMES RECORD TR: What brought you to Bath?

“WOOD ANGEL” by David Morgan. 
PHOTO PROVIDED BY DAVID MORGAN “WOOD ANGEL” by David Morgan. PHOTO PROVIDED BY DAVID MORGAN DM: I moved from New Mexico to Bath a few years ago. I originally rented a studio on Centre Street, where Bath Sweet Shoppe is now. A gallery was almost an afterthought, but then we moved into the Front Street space and a couple people began to submit art. I met Penny Lane and we talked about going in together and becoming partners at the gallery, and I owe a lot of this to her vision and her energy. So Green Lion has really blossomed to more than I’ve imagined. It includes studio space in back and gallery in front. They overlap but there are two separate projects going on here.

TR: Tell us about the printmaking process.

DM: You start with a block of Japanese wood or just wood scraps if you don’t have that. They have to be flat and have the proper thickness. You carve your design, and then you print with ink and paper. For years I printed by hand, but now I mainly use the printing press. There’s a couple of differences between press and freehand: if you have funny old cast off pieces of wood that aren’t flat, you don’t want to use the press. You have to have a flat surface so the pressure is even, so if you’ve got something like that it becomes a lot easier to print it by hand. The Japanese have a method for printing by hand which artist Matt Brown has mastered, but ever since Gutenburg invented the printing press, the Western tradition has involved printing with presses.

The ink is different depending on the method. The Japanese method is water based. You mix it in with rice paste to get your ink. Western ink is traditionally oil based. It takes a little bit more pressure to print oil, and it behaves differently, comes out more painterly. In terms of the press, it’s a little easier to get consistent results but its not a giant labor saving device. The bulk of the time is spent carving. Depending on the image, it might take a week or it might take a day.

TR: How do you decide if you’re going to print in black and white or color?

DM: It depends how much time I have. I have a lot in black and white, but I’m moving toward doing more in color. Its fun, a new set of ideas to learn about. There are different blocks for each color which you call a reduction blocks that you use in the press, but using them involves several trips to the press, and is a little more difficult.

TR: Where do you get your printmaking ideas?

DM: It’s kind of hard to say where I get my ideas. I see something, I guess. It’s visual alchemy in a way, the shapes that form the visual imagery of the print. There’s usually a story or an idea centered around it.

A lot of my inspiration comes from archeology. The first European dig I worked on in England was a Pagan Saxon cemetery from 600 AD. There’s a tradition where the Saxons were buried with hordes of treasure, so there were some interesting artifacts there. The Celts and Scandinavians were inspiring, too. That 500 BC-500 AD time period is what a lot of my work is based on. It wasn’t that I was always digging up artifacts that were particularly exciting, but rather the conversations that led to looking at books and discovering art in that way.

I also became interested in Romanesque art from 1000-1400 AD, too. There were a lot of intricate churches from that time. It was an exuberant creative period, but they were still trained as folk artists in a way, which echoes modern times.

To learn more about Morgan’s printmaking methods, visit greenlionart.com, or attend his artist talk at Topsham Public Library tomorrow, Jan. 7 at 11 a.m.


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