Imprints of the Past: Remembering the 1966 Woodcut Show

A positive show and a should-see for Illustrators

“The objective of the Imprints of the Past: Remembering the 1966 Woodcut Show is to remember the 1966 six men show…it was the first major art exhibitions in Singapore since gaining independence in 1965 and it was the first wood block print exhibition in the art history of Singapore.” (Text lifted from Curatorial text)

Remembering the 1966 Woodcut Show

The exhibition reminded me of those re-enactment club-fanatics in the UK and other parts of the world. This exhibition is in a way, a re-enactment, separate from the contemporary and post-modern art complexity. It doesn’t quite feel or look like contemporary art, or does it? Like all fanatics, attention to detail is everything. Attention to detail gave us the stunning big screen re-enactment in Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, the battle of Normandy. Such attention to detail impresses even non-fanatics.

This Imprints re-enactment seems to be symbolic only in numbers and dates, six woodblock print artists, and forty years on since the predecessor exhibition, held also at the National Library. It is more symbolic because from an art educator’s point of view it potentially traces and plugs the gap between art, illustration, where perhaps the only difference to fine art is the commission paid to the artist. Woodblock prints from the fifties and sixties embody an alternative to the status quo of a Nanyang Style as the only representational art style (and medium) of first generation Singapore artists. It is a stark contrast to two Singapore Art Biennale works, also located in the same building. The former delves into the consciousness of artists 40 years ago, the later muses the public and it’s ‘Shock of the New’ today. Imprints doesn’t have the visual spectacle of Jeremy Deller’s Battle of Orgreaves, a 1984 coal miner’s strike re-enactment” (2001), in which the artist didn’t necessarily claim as (performance) art on a grand scale. If illustrators get their cards right, they could learn from these masters, and create a new retro illustration style, one that ‘draws’ by reduction rather than addition, just like laborious sculptors who toil on their marbles.

The beauty of woodblock prints should still wow illustrators today. The understanding of principles of art and design, draftsmanship, and technique are not dissimilar from the computer and wacom tablet. It is however, more time consuming and requires the utmost attention as mistakes cannot be undone with a mouse click. In some sense, there is a regard of awe and respect for these woodcut masters, the illustrators of books and newspapers of their time. Hence, there are two areas to consider this exhibition. Firstly, printmaking as a technology embraced since (Medieval) Albrect Durer’s and the Chinese Diamond Sutra (868A.D.). Sadly, woodcut print as a technology is about as exciting as playing Atari 2600 amongst xbox 360, using MS DOS versus using windows XP. Secondly, the romanticism and realism-content of these marvelous black and white prints. Like what Cheo Chai-Hiang said in a panel artists’ talk elsewhere, one may be interested to see those that are not exhibited, those that reflect the more turbulent times of nation-building which artists struggle to make ends and artistic integrity meet, which unfortunately is not the scope of the Imprints exhibition here. That would have made the show a better re-print of the past, beyond remembering another exhibition but framed in the context of contesting the hegemony of A Singapore Art History, where few 1st generation artists are canonised.
Till Oct 31, 2006
National Library, Level 8 Promenade
3.0 of 5 stars

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