June Crisfield Chapman: Wood Engravings
Sat 04 Feb 12 - Sun 13 May 12
Artist, lecturer and writer June Crisfield Chapman is also an experienced wood engraver whose work in this medium is to be the focus of a new exhibition at The Bowes Museum in Barnard Castle in the New Year.
Although June is as much a portrait painter as wood engraver, as a student at the Glasgow School of Art in the 50s – which was famed for its emphasis on drawing – she became intrigued by the possibilities of line, ending her four years there in the wood engraving department.
June follows two main themes in her engravings: plant forms and characters from literature and the theatre. Her awareness of the dramatic possibilities of working in black and white and of the form that is achievable by clear, clean line is the essential nature of her engraving. She finds fascination and inspiration in the various forms of plants, as well as the myth and folklore surrounding medicinal plants. Theatre subjects have also captivated her since she first became enamoured by transformation scenes in pantomimes.
For 11 years June wrote and engraved for The Countryman magazine. Her plant engravings have been shown in exhibitions in the Royal Botanic Garden Gallery, Edinburgh; the Chelsea Physic Garden Gallery and the Walter Rothschild Museum, which is part of the Natural History Museum in London.
Her literary and theatre themed engravings include characters from Shakespeare, Chaucer, and Ancient Greek plays. Her work has been the subject of one-woman shows at the National Theatre and Shakespeare’s Globe complex and has been included in exhibitions on Chaucer in Westminster Abbey and St.Martin-in-the-Fields, London. She has also illustrated books on Shakespeare for the Folio Book Society.
“The Commedia dell’ Arte has always been a source of inspiration,” said June. “Literature too, of the lively sort – Chaucer, Sterne, Boccaccio, etc – makes me want to engrave active characters. Plants, particularly flowers, have engaged my attention since I was a child, by their varied forms and intriguing shapes.
“There has to be an ongoing compulsion to keep an artist working over the years,” she added. “For me this compulsion is to produce work celebrating the individuality of subject and of medium.
“The stuff of which a work is made is to me of as great an importance as the subject matter, whether I’m working in pencil, charcoal, pastel, oil, watercolour, gouache and, of course, when I’m wood engraving.”
This exhibition is about the liveliness of line and its ability to express form, rhythm and character through the medium of wood engraving.
Works by June Crisfield Chapman are in the permanent collections of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow; the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford; the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge, the V&A, London; and in the Royal Collection.