Gorden Mortensen

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Gorden Mortensen


February Afternoon, 1978

Woodcut, ed. 24/125

22 x 30 inches

Signed Lower Right

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Gordon Mortensen (b.1938)

   Although Mortensen has become famous for his woodcuts depicting landscapes, when he began studying art it was with the intent of becoming a portrait painter. In fact, he financed three years of graduate school at the University of Minnesota by doing portrait commissions.  Mortensen discovered, however, that the human figure did not allow him the creative freedom he needed.

As a result, Mortensen turned to landscapes as his subject and woodcutting as his medium, a combination that allowed him to concentrate more on shapes and textures.

   Mortensen begins the process of creating a reduction woodcut by first studying photographs he has taken. "I might use two or three photographs to make one image, or just part of a photograph to make an image," he describes. "I look for images that have color or possibilities for color, and I look for textures and abstract shapes."

   He then paints a watercolor sketch, composing an image he feels will work as a woodcut.  "The watercolor gives me an idea of what I might achieve," says Mortensen.  "I know that it may not be what I want exactly, and that my ideas will evolve as I work on the print.  I naturally try to produce a certain kind of color composition, and I always want cools against warm colors.  The watercolors are often done with tonal concepts in mind, so anything that is going to happen -- with regard to color -- will usually happen while I am printing."

   Once he has done the watercolor, Mortensen uses a water-based ink to draw the image onto a block of basswood.  Next, he lays down the first color, and any areas that are not to be printed in that color are masked by a stencil.  He then runs this first color through an etching press.  To produce the next color, Mortenson cuts away -- with an Exacto knife -- those portions of the sketch that will not be printed in that particular color, spreads the selected ink over the wood, and again runs it through the press.  He continues to stencil and cut away from the block those images that were produced during the preceding printings for each subsequent color.  This method of carving, stenciling, and printing is repeated until the image has been built up in its entirety and the surface of the wood block reduced; hence, the name for this art form: reduction woodcut.

    Mortensen incorporates approximately 23-47 colors in his woodcuts and executes between 20-35 press runs on handmade Japanese mulberry paper to produce 130 prints per edition.  The process is a slow and meticulous one, taking over 30 days to create one edition of extraordinary richness.

biography from American Design Ltd. via askART