Ring cycles ‘Woodcut’ art tells tales of trees
“Leader,” print by Bryan Nash Gill | Courtesy Chicago Botanic Garden
Chicago Botanic Garden, 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, through April 14
Admission is free; parking is $20 per car
(847) 835-8215 or www.chicagobotanic.org
Updated: January 25, 2013 8:16AM
Artist Bryan Nash Gill is in the groove with wood.
A sculptor, printmaker and painter who’s worked in a variety of media over 30 years, Gill will hold his first-ever Midwest exhibit at the Joutras Gallery of the Chicago Botanic Garden, Jan. 19 through April 14.
“Woodcut,” the exhibition, includes original woodcut prints from Gill’s best-selling art book of the same name, published by Princeton Architectural Press, 2012, and identified as a Best Book of 2012 by the New York Times.
The 31 prints featured in the “Woodcut” exhibition are made from wood salvaged from land near Gill’s home in New Hartford, Conn. Detailing tree rings as well as imperfections in the wood, the prints tell unique stories about the lives of trees from which they came.
“I’ve always loved wood, I’ve always loved working with wood,” Gill said, noting that burning and otherwise interacting with wood is a daily occurrence in his rural community.
Gill was introduced to printmaking in 1988, when he took classes at the same time he was building his own studio. With his mind engaged with the printmaking process, Gill started seeing the ends of the two-by-four boards he was using to build in a new light. He was working with white pine and hemlock, wood indigenous to his area that’s often used for building barns.
“Pine and hemlock happen to have very diffused end grains, so you can see its growth rings really clearly,” Gill said, which led to his “a-ha” moment for making art from wood.
In the printmaking process, Gill sands and burns the wood to prepare it and makes the actual prints by pressing paper down on its individual ridges and shapes. Each print is made by hand and is slightly different than the others.
“My work is very organic,” Gill said. Having made wood prints for a decade now, he said he is always looking for new varieties.
For the Chicago Botanic Garden exhibit, that wish came true in the form of an English oak woodcut the Garden sent to Gill from a tree that once stood on its site. From it, Gill created an original series of prints exclusively for the Garden. The first print from that series is included in the exhibition; additional artist variation prints will be available for purchase in the Chicago Botanic Garden’s Garden Shop.
Exhibition visitors will gain a “sense of discovery,” Gill hopes, from seeing trees and wood from a new perspective.
“Some of the simplest things can be the most complex,” he said. “That’s something that keeps me going. I’m always seeking something new. When you find something you haven’t seen before, you get excited.”
Gill is also excited about another first. Besides displaying his work in the Midwest and his first visit to Chicago, “Woodcut” marks his first exhibit at a public garden.
“I never thought I’d have an exhibition at a botanical garden. But when they called, I thought, ‘wow!’,” he said. “It’s a refreshing idea, instead of exhibiting in a museum or gallery, which is what I’m used to.”
Gill acknowledged the Chicago Botanic Garden’s commitment and ability to take risks by showing art.
“That’s kind of why I do what I do,” Gill said. “I’m seeking engagement. I’m seeking experience because I don’t want to do the same thing over and over again.”
Gill’s work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Martha Stewart Living, Vogue and other major publications; displayed in numerous galleries; and collected worldwide.
Also included in the Chicago Botanic Garden exhibition will be three custom benches made from an ash tree removed from the Garden due to emerald ash borer infestation. The Garden will also hold special classes and family-friendly programs to highlight the exhibition.