Linocut uses a cheap, versatile material that gives possibilities for dynamic mark-making and bold shapes with simplified colour. It has been used by for many different types of prints including portraits, political works, landscapes and typography. It has been particularly popular as a medium for political protest, including the Russian Revolution and US Civil Rights movements.
Earlier artists applied many of the techniques earlier developed for woodcut – both markmaking and use of tone and structure. Some were influenced by Japanese woodcut traditions as well as Western wood engraving and African and Oceanic art. Linocut artists from the Grosvenor School and Russian Revolution (see below) were influenced by major art movements of the twentieth century, particularly cubism, futurism and constructivism. Others developed new directions with Picasso’s use of the reduction linocut (that can also be done with any other surface like wood). Contemporary linocut artists used a wide variety of experimental techniques, using abrasive solutions as well as power tools to create a range of marks and tones.
Linoleum was invented in the early 1860s and first used for printing in 1890 in Germany for the manufacture of wallpaper.
Franz Ciceck, an Austrian artist and teacher was one of the first to popularise lino for artists’ prints. He recognised the medium’s potential to instruct children in colour and design: it was cheap, easily worked with simple tools, adaptable to water-based inks, and versatile. He toured Europe and North America with examples by his pupils and influenced art education worldwide.
In the early 20th century linocut became very popular as an artistic medium.
German Expressionists 1905-1920s : The first major artist to adopt linocut as a medium was Erich Heckel, and his earliest linocut is dated 1903. Artists from Die Brucke regularly used linocut instead of woodcut from 1905 to 1920s. These focused on bold shapes and expressive distortion in monochrome prints. The use of lino was ideal for this, although the fine lines and use of woodgrain etxture in some of the woodcuts was not possible.
This German Expressionist tradition has been continued by modern artists like Georg Baselitz who produces very large linocuts and combination prints often on subjects of political protest.
In revolutionary Russia important linocuts were produced from about 1918.
Lyubov’ Popova was a Russian avant-garde and ‘new woman’ artist (Cubist, Suprematist and Constructivist) painter and designer. She produced a number of linocuts in constructivist style.
The printmakers of the Grosvenor School (see C.S. Ackley, 2008) produced very dynamic linocuts with strong curvature distortion influenced by the Vorticist and Futurist movements. Key artists were:
- Claude Flight Click here for Google images of Flight’s linocuts
- Sybil Andrews Click here for overview of Andrews’ work
- Cyril Power Click here for Google images of Power’s linocuts
The work of the Grosvenor School has also influenced some contemporary linocut artists like the Canadian Gary Ratushniak who was trained by Sybil Andrews draws also on native America traditions.
- Click here for overview of work of Gary Ratushniak
- Click here for Google images of Ratushniak’s linocuts
Edward Bawden is another English artist and illustrator who often worked in watercolour, but also produced many linocuts. His work is more figurative and many of his paintings are from his experience as war artist in the Second World War.
- Click here for Google images of Bawden’s linocuts
- For an overview of Bawden’s multi-block texhnique from the VandA see: https://www.vam.ac.uk/blog/caring-for-our-collections/edward-bawden-master-linocut
Matisse produced 70 linocuts between 1938 and 1952. These are similar in both style and subject matter to his black and white monoprints of figures. They use a fluid expressive white-line technique that takes advantage of the variation in line that can be achieved as linocut tools glide through the the soft material..
See S. Coppel, S. (1998)
Picasso used linoleum for popular posters in the early 1950s. In 1959 he began a series of innovative colour linocuts, developing the reduction print technique. He developed a method of printing in different colours progressive states cut on a single block, so that the finished print comprises layered impressions of all the states.
- Click here for overview of Picasso’s work as printmaker and artist
- Click here for Google images of Picasso linocuts
US Civil Rights Movement
Linocuts were very popular as effective and cheap media for mass communication by African American artists involved in the American Civil Rights movement. Influenced by both African and Mexican art they depicted images of racial and sexual issues. Key proponents were:
Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in linocut as an art form. It is a key part of the many printmaking courses as an easier introduction to relief printing than woodcut. It has therefore become widely used for things like greetings cards. But there are also contemporary linocut artists doing innovative work – including very large pieces that exploit its potential for being cut into smaller blocks and because of its relatively light weight. There has been development of a wide range surface etching and texturing techniques using different tools.
Some of the sources I have looked at (in alphabetical order – unfortunately websites for other artists I looked at were fleeting and disappeared since I started the course).
- Richard Bosman creates linocuts that are often very experimental in their use of different types of paper.
- Helen Brown creates landscape linocuts from plates produced outdoors on site.
- Lynda Burke creates dramatic monochrome landscapes with a variety of mark-making.
- Angela Cavaglieri produces very large linocuts on rolls.
- Katarzyna Cyganic manages to create very detailed and complex monochrome images using using reflections and reversals.
- Rika Deryckere produces striking overlaid images on contemporary themes.
- Geraldine Theurot creates imaginary narratives See Saatchi Art
- Ackley, C. S., (2008) British Prints from the Machine Age: Rhythms of Modern Life, London: Thames & Hudson Ltd.
- Coppel, S., (1998) Picasso and Printmaking in Paris, London: South BGank Publishing.
- D’arcy Hughes, A. & Vernon-Morris, H., (2008) The Printmaking Bible: the complete guide to materials and techniques, San Francisco: Chronicle Books.
- Griffiths, A., (1980) Prints and Printmaking: An introduction to the history and techniques, London: British Museum Press.
- Martin, J., (1993) The Encyclopedia of Printmaking Techniques, London: Quarto Publishing.
- Stobart, J., (2001) Printmaking for Beginners, London: A&C Black.
- Woods, L., (2011) The Printmaking Handbook: Simple techniques and step-by-step projects, London: Search Press.
- Yeates, S., (2011) Learning Linocut: A comprehensive guide to the art of relief printing through linocut, Gamlingay, UK: Bright Pen.
Recent acquisitions two sets of Picasso linocuts (10 January – 6 May 2014)