Known for his unique and complex approach to printmaking, Luigi Rist (1888-1951) was a lifelong resident of Newark, NJ and started his art career as a painter. At the age of 41, while in Brittany monitoring for painter Sigurd Skou, he met Morris Blackburn, a Philadelphia painter who became a lifelong friend. The two visited an exhibition of Japanese woodcuts in New York, where Rist became fascinated by the medium. By the age of 53, he had immersed himself in the exploration of Japanese woodblock creation and manipulation. Through experimentation, Rist developed his own tools and techniques, using multiple blocks and numerous layers of color to produce prints in which still lifes become almost abstract forms, defined by the subtle nuances and brilliance of his color application.
His exacting methods were well documented in his copious working notes. Written on lined legal pads, his notes helped him navigate the dizzying number of woodblocks used in each print. Sometimes Rist used up to 16 cherry-wood blocks (8 blocks carved on each side) for one image. Because Rist’s prints required between 50 and 100 impressions to make a finished print (different sections of one block were used for different colors, and frequent overprinting was done to build up color), his notes were a way to recreate each print in the edition. Rist would also create his own color flow charts.
The key to Rist’s stunning color lay in the use of rice paste, a mixture of fine rice flour and hot water, mixed together on a double-boiler. Rist would mix-up a fresh batch of rice paste every morning. He would then weigh out powdered pigment, slowly adding water to create his inks, making sure his “mixture was the consistency of heavy cream. Using a flat stick, a dab of the rice paste was applied to the area of the block to be printed; with a soft Japanese brush the creamy pigment was also applied to the block, and the paste and pigment were blended with the brush on the block itself. The type of brush used, the direction of the stroke, all made for different effects. The addition of the paste changed the character of the color from a granular or matte finish to one more brilliant.” (For more on his technique and invented tools, please read Luigi Rist: Printmaker in Japanese Tradition by Barbara Whipple.)
Both Grapes and Pears are in our current exhibit, Ink & Grain, on the OPG gallery walls. Stop by our Georgetown gallery before November 15th to see the show in person.