Brain Pickings

Woodcut: A Meditation on Time Through the Inked Cross-Sections of Fallen Trees


Bryan Nash Gill’s visual record of the passage of time.

Trees have a way of witnessing the world that stirs our deepest sense of permanence and impermanence. Somewhere between Cedric Pollet’s Bark and Romeyn Houghs’s cross-section plates comes Bryan Nash Gill’s Woodcut (public library) — a magnificent collection of the artist’s large-scale relief prints from the cross-sections of fallen and damaged trees.

Gills’ ink prints — sometimes stark, sometimes nuanced, always exquisitely beautiful — provide another, at once more abstract and more organic, way to visualize time, his labor-intensive printmaking process mirroring the patience imprinted on the trees’ arboreal rings. Looking at the cross-sections from above, inverting one’s usual orientation relative to a tree, kindles a kind of transcendental awe at these radial life records.

Ash, 2003

82 years printed

Red Ash, 2007

82 years printed

Double Crescent, 2009

Norway spruce

45 years printed

Black Locust with Bark, 2009

87 years printed

Honey Locust, 2010

31 years printed

Eastern Red Cedar, 2011

77 years printed

Glue Lam, 2003

One of Gill's first prints created from dimensional lumber. Glued laminated timber is known for its superior structural strength and used in columns and beams. This print, revealing the grain patterns of glued lumber, is made from two boards stacked and rotated.

Gill at work, inking the block and printing (pressing the rings) of Eastern Red Cedar

Nature writer Verlyn Klinkenborg observes in the foreword:

Something [happens] as you peer into these boles. They confound time, simultaneously offering diachrony and synchrony, to use those nearly antiquated words. You look across all of the tree’s living years, exposed at one. And yet, as you move from the center to the periphery — to the final present of that individual tree — you’re also looking along time, along the succession of growth cycles that end in what is, after all, the death mask of a plant, the sustained rigor mortis of a maple, ash, spruce, locust, and other species.

Beautiful and quietly poetic, Woodcut is an absolute treat both aesthetically and conceptually, pulling you into a deeper contemplation of the passage of time as it sweeps you up in a meditation on beauty.

Captioned images courtesy of Princeton Architectural Press / Bryan Nash Gill

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