Whilst researching the history of linocutting as an artform, I have been particularly interested in work by artists Claude Flight, Cyril Power, Sybil Andrews and Lill Tschudi. Claude Flight joined Grosvenor school in 1926 as a tutor, just one year after the college was co-founded by Cyril Power. Power in turn had a long standing artistic partnership with the Canadian Sybil Andrews.
Linocutting was a new medium at the time of the great war, and was starting to gain popularity as part of the Vorticist movement. This was a reaction against the sweeping lines and dynamism of Italian Futurism, striving instead for the hard mechanistic stillness at the eye of a storm (vortex). Linocut was well suited to this ideal as it allows clean large areas and hard edged precision cutting without the interference of a grain, giving the print a mechanised feel.
The first popular cuts, however, were produced by the Grosvenor School of Artists who combined the hard-edged pure abstraction of vorticism with the speed and movement of futurism. Claude Flight was the author of two sentinel books on linocuts “Linocuts: A Handbook of Linoleum Cut Colour Printing” 1927, and “The Art and Craft of Linocutting and Printing” 1934. The lack of history in this particular medium left no tradition of a historical style or subject, allowing Flight to lay out his own manifesto. He felt that a linocut print should look like a linocut, the design should be not too large or complicated, and most revolutionary was his recommendation to abandon a keyblock that would traditionally hold a multicolour print design together. He wanted to make linocut printing part of daily life. His first book included a section on printing textiles, and he had an interior decor business with Edith Lawrence. Lill Tschudi printed her designs on fabric and made them into cushion covers. It strikes me that this idea of incorporating design into everyday life has a lot in common with William Morris.
In general, the Grosvenor Group prints illustrated the accelerated pace of modern life with generic figures, anonymity and repeated dizzying patterns to convey movement. Figures are elastically warped with violent dynamism, and complimentary colours are used to enliven the design. Blocks were usually limited to three or four per print, but these seemingly simple prints were made complex wth skilled handpressing, varying pressure over the design to achieve shading and translucent layering of colours to widen the palette.
The best example in my view of the movement in these prints is “The Merry-Go-Round” 1929-30 by Cyril Power. The repeated swirling lines in opposite directions create zig-zagging twisting movement, and the use of contrasting colours exaggerates the effect. The figures are almost part of the machine and abstracted, flexing with the rotation of the ride. The varying pressure on the thin Asian paper has created a contrast between the foreground and background, making the concentrated ink in the centre appear to be being flung out more thinly in a centrifugal pattern.
“The Merry-Go-Round” Cyril Power, 1929-30
Another print that caught my eye is also by Cyril Power, “Air Raid” 1935. The patriotic red, white and blue colours intermingle and become muddied when overlayed with each other and grey tones. Chaotic swirls and violent, rough mark making bring the image to horrifying life, the red becoming splatters of blood and fire in the trail of the planes.
“Air Raid” Cyril Power, 1935
Ackley, Clifford S. “British Prints from the Machine Age: Rhythms of Modern Life 1914-1939” Thames and Hudson 2008