A print apart

Anna Hepler 'flattens' sculptures into woodcuts
By KEN GREENLEAF  |  December 1, 2008

art_hepler_woodcut.16_11280.jpg
WOODCUT WONDER A print by Anna Hepler.

Anna Hepler's major works are sculptural installations made from wires and joints that are held together in tension, creating mighty metallic clouds that fill big spaces and change with the light. She employs a great many suspended elements fastened together in all directions, changing as the viewer moves around them.

For her show at Icon Contemporary Art in Brunswick she has undertaken to represent her ideas in two dimensions — in the flat, as it were. This is a pretty difficult task. The wires in her big pieces radiate all over the place. A literal translation from the installations would risk visual chaos.

Hepler has chosen to make large woodcut prints that have the virtue of being obviously prints. There are enough irregularities and other clear indications of process to give the viewer a sense of the physical history of these images. They look made, not drawn. There was something bigger, heavier, and mechanical back where these came from — something sculptural.

In one larger piece black lines swirl around in curves, nearly describing a stretched spheroid. Toward the left the lines coalesce into dark shapes that are simply that, dark shapes, but that also suggest that wires have bundled together they way they do when you are trying to coil them up and they're resisting. The lighter parts between the lines show traces of how this piece was made.

When Hepler pressed the paper onto the carved wood to print the lines, parts of the wood grain between them got recorded as well. These "mistakes" are, I think, central to the overall effect of these pieces. We are reminded there was a big piece of wood involved here, and some physical effort. Image-making meets engineering, or even carpentry.

As a general rule an artist's process is irrelevant to a thorough understanding of their work. We don't really learn much about the process that Hepler used for these works, nor do we need to. What matters here is the little bit that says these works are a step removed from simple drawing. As drawings, these works would be indistinguishable from many other works like them that have gone before. As prints, they imply that there is a larger body of effort that exists, or existed, somewhere else.

The tension between the made and the making, between graphic illusion and a record of an action, is present in all the works in the show in one way or another. In another piece, curved lines get progressively smaller from left to right on a diagonal from lower to higher. The curves are irregularly crossed by smaller straight lines, giving the whole image a suggestion of a mat made from barbed wire seen in perspective.

Here again the slight procedural irregularities alter the nature of what we see. The illusion disappears and the sense of the presence of ink and paper are restored. The viewer's imagination is directed toward the work as an abstract object with its own existential reality and its own history, rather than as a presentation of a sculptural idea. These aren't sketches.

This is a very fine-grained distinction, but an important one. The question here is the difference between poetic abstraction and a simple gestural sketch. Sketches are a means of working out an idea, but true abstraction is a worthwhile end in itself.

Ken Greenleaf can be reached at ken.greenleaf@gmail.com.

"WOODCUTS" by Anna Hepler | through December 19 | at Icon Contemporary Art, 19 Mason St, Brunswick | 207.725.8127

  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Visual Arts, Sculpture, Anna Hepler,  More more >
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