Mirroring the glaciers
If you’ve stood on a glacier, or on a mountain two miles high, standing in front of Anderson’s finished prints will stir a familiar chill in the air, as if someone opened a window 10,000 feet up. The prints reveal scars from the violent upheaval, subduction and collision of the Earth’s crust. You’ll feel the cool blues of the ice, the ancient gray of the rock and yellow, purple, pink and blue of sunrises and sunsets seen through thin air.
Anderson spent weeks each summer working in situ, researching the glaciers – which ones to document, how to access them, seeing them at different times of day as the sun shifted shadows and revealed new details. He hiked, sketched and photographed, getting to know each one before it ceased to exist.
Back in his studio, where the prints come to life, a mixture of fluorescent bulbs balance the blues, reds and greens to shine as white as possible.
In the middle of the space sits a printing press, perched atop tiny feet, perfectly level. The press is new; at least it’s new to Anderson. It arrived recently by freight to his home in one of Clemson’s leafy neighborhoods. The press is his six-burner gas range, where the ingredients of his art – science, nature, light and the wonder of the Rocky Mountains — mingle and fuse.
Slowly, they develop as reductive woodcut prints in a process involving time, pressure and the deliberate carving of a landscape until nothing is left but a picture, a life cycle that mimics his subjects. Anderson chose to recreate the glaciers as woodcut prints because, he says, he wanted “an organic, visual language,” and woodcuts, by their nature, provide a “visual texture.”
Both glaciers and prints are constructed of layers, but while glaciers are built from the bottom, prints begin at the top. They require the artist to complete the piece in his mind, then work backward.
Anderson carves out a plywood “stamp” he is using to create a reductive woodblock print of a glacier for “The Last Glacier.”
Anderson transfers a sketch to a rectangular block of basswood, imported from Japan, then begins working in negative space – using fingers and hands that once routinely clung to rock to slowly, expertly, carve away wood, creating an image by removing what he doesn’t want in the print. The first layer he carves away, from the top of the block, will be the first image on the paper, the bottom layer of color.
“I might do that 10, 15 or 20 times. So I’ll have 15 or 20 sheets of paper that look the same,” he says. “Once I’m done doing that, I’ll take that same block of wood, clean it off, carve it out a little bit more, I’ll ink it up with a new color this time, then I’ll print it on top of what I printed before.”
He has to print light colors first, and he’s constantly calculating “the value of the color and the opacity of my ink, so that I can make a whole image look right. At least in my mind how it looks right.”
One layer, one carving, one color, one pressing at a time, all the while thinking backwards, or upside down, removing negative space from the top that becomes the bottom. Eventually, the full image appears. But, at a cost.
“By the time I get done making these artworks, the blocks themselves are really exhausted, and there’s no way of going back and remaking the artwork,” Anderson says. “The process is mirroring the fate of the glaciers themselves.”
Anderson said he doesn’t create “message” art. He’s not delivering a political statement. Not directly, anyway.
“There’s a complexity to these ideas” of art, experience, climate change, he said. “What I’m trying to present as an artist is visual complexity. But there’s moments where, when it works right, you can get lost in these things and you start seeing the cobwebs. You start seeing things. There’s an experience that art can give you, which is just wonder, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Anderson received funding from the South Carolina Arts Commission, the Sustainable Arts Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts for this work.
For more information, and to see the work by Crownover and van Coller, go to TheLastGlacier.com.