This past Saturday was the opening reception and artist’s talk for Beneath the Old Masters: Evolution & Process, Woodcuts by Trudi Y. Ludwig, at the Washington Printmakers Gallery in Silver Spring, Maryland. I’ve been watching Trudi’s masterful image, The Exposure of Luxury, emerge from the wood for most of the year. Indeed, right before I left for Chicago, I saw the finished plate. Even so, I was unprepared for the breathtaking sight that greeted me as I came up the entry stairs into the gallery. There, filling the entire visual space, not one, but four versions of intertwined skeletal forms danced and floated before my eyes, daring me to choose which one spoke most strongly.
|Four Versions of The Exposure of Luxury|
I leave it to the printmakers to talk about the technical specifications of papers and ink. For me, it was simply a delight to contemplate the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between a print made on stark, white paper; one made on the soft, fibrous side of another paper with a yellower, more bone-like cast; a third pulled on the harder, less porous side of that same, cream-colored substrate, and embellished with gold leaf; and, in mirror image, the inky black of the actual plywood plate. On each of the hand-printed sheets, the marks of the baren evoked clouds and memories, as if the bones had emerged from dreams rather than from the tedious, hard physical labor of carving into plywood for hundreds of hours.
It was also a delight to hear Trudi talk about her process, revealing her ideas about art and life just as her astonishing, life-sized prints reveal the underlying structures of works of art by those we often refer to as “old masters.” Other works in the show included a reprinting of a block originally cut in 2000, Prima Veritas, showing the bones under Botticelli’s three Primavera Graces; the skeletal underpinnings of Rodin’s Thinker, titled Nosce Te Ipsum (Know Thyself) from 2005; and That Mystic Smile (Mona Revisited) from 2002. As she spoke in multi-layered puns and double entendres, the works became ever more resonant, exposing the essential truth that bones support every one of our living bodies, no matter how luxurious our outer trappings. These exquisite networks of shape and form are a testament to luxury of a different kind than that depicted in the Bronzino work that inspired Trudi’s newest prints. They neither exploit nor bemoan the decadent, transient pleasures of the flesh. Rather, they revel in the luxury of time to work in the studio, time to think and to pray, time to remember that we are more than just our skin and bones, we are also spirit, dancing eternally with the God before whom all are equal, and all are beautiful.