Thursday, March 7, 2013


Humphrey Bogart
Today I welcome artist/writer Loren Kantor as guest blogger. I came across some of his fabulous woodcuts last week and needed to know more. Check out Loren's blog Here.

Loren Kantor is a passionate, curious Woodcutter/Writer living in Hollywood with a love for movies, music and old Los Angeles. Check out his blog for more information. All woodcuts are for sale.

Loren Kantor: Film Noir Woodcuts

My interest in woodcuts began in the 80's when I attended a German Expressionist art show at LA County Museum. I encountered the woodcut prints and paintings of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized. I loved the stark lines and bold imagery. I was also blown away by the dark subject matter.  Characters expressed emotional angst and images focused on the violent and unpleasant aspects of society.  I was writing screenplays in those days and I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself.  But the images remained in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.
Peter Lorre
Several years ago, my wife surprised me with a woodcutting set for my birthday. I checked out a few online tutorial videos and I dove in, head first. The carving process was difficult at first. I cut myself often, the blocks were ragtag and I felt like a kindergartner with his first set of fingerpaints. But before long I got the hang of it.
The idea to carve images from Film Noir Movies came about because we needed art for our walls at home. I realized the stark imagery of black & white films was a perfect match for the carved lines of a woodcut. The roots of film noir cinematography came from German Expressionist movies so this provided a nice link to the woodcuts.
I was first exposed to film noir  as a child. My father was a film editor at Columbia Pictures and in the early 70's he borrowed 16mm film prints and screened them in our living room for the neighborhood. This is how I saw my first true film noir, DOA. From the moment Edmond O'Brien walked into the police station to report his own murder I was hooked. There was something twisted and mysterious about the film, an edge I couldn't find in the boring Hardy Boys books I was reading.
Lauren Bacall
On Saturday nights, my dad took me, my brother and my sister to a revival film theater in Hollywood across from Fairfax High School. We watched vintage silent comedies (Chaplin & Keaton) and old Republic Serials (Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel). My favorite movies were the detective classics like Murder, My Sweet  and The Big Sleep.  I became obsessed with Bogart and I often stayed up late watching Bogie on TV.
During my college days at UCLA, I took a film noir class and immersed myself in the classics: Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Laura.  I fell in love with the stark black and white photography, the sinister shadows, the cynical heroes and enticing femme fatales. My favorite film noir was Fritz Lang's The Big Heat.  Police detective Glenn Ford takes on a syndicate boss and his evil henchman Lee Marvin. When Glenn Ford's wife is killed by a car bomb intended for him, you realize you've entered a film world that does not play by "happily ever after" rules. Lee Marvin's character takes pleasure in burning women with cigarette butts and throwing hot coffee in his girlfriend's face. The movie is ruthless and intense and the hero is only able to carry out justice after resigning from the police force and living by his own moral code.
Edward G. Robinson
I think this was my attraction to film noir. Protagonists such as Bogart and Robert Mitchum embodied the rugged individualism I admired.  I was always more of a loner and I never trusted groupthink.  I was born the year JFK was killed and I remember when Nixon resigned.  I guess I was raised in a period of cynicism and noir movies seemed to resonate with my outlook.
When carving the woodcuts, the process begins when I find an old photo or image that I like. From this image I make an initial pencil sketch which I then transfer to a wood or linoleum block. I use standard woodcutting blades and gouges and other odd tools (awls, dental implements, sewing needles.)
Once the image is carved I clean the block, apply a thin layer of ink and hand press the image on archival paper using a Japanese Baren (a bamboo tool that look kind of like an air-hockey paddle). The entire process takes 40-50 hours depending on the size and complexity of the image. If I make a major mistake I have to start over. Minor mistakes I live with; they add to the organic nature of the print.
The process is slow and meditative.  I'll put on music, immerse myself in the carving and hours will go by in a flash. In these days when everything is moving so fast it's nice to have an activity that forces me to relax.  I guess woodcutting has become my personal yoga.


J F Norris said...

Very cool! This is an art form I at one time collected. It's painstaking work and nearly a lost art form. Rockwell Kent, Lynn Ward... they're all amazing. I'm glad to see they are still artists out there who choose it as their form of expression.

Past Expiry said...

Does anyone know where I can learn this method of drawing? I've searched everywhere!