Donald Judd

It was with ambivalence that Donald Judd first approached the woodcut medium in 1953. The physical, messy nature of carving the wood initially caused trepidation for an artist who did not like to work with his hands or fuss with tools. Yet the woodcut medium afforded Judd a crucial moment of artistic experimentation. His drawings and lithographs up to this point had included flowing lines and blended colours, but the hard birch woodcuts allowed only sharp, clean lines. Judd was thereby encouraged to graduate from his initial figurative experimentations of 1953, to briefly engage with the organic, abstract shapes of 1955-1960, before reaching the clarity and power of the parallelograms of 1961.

The straight lines of these shapes however, are difficult to create in wood, requiring cuts across the grain that surpassed Judd’s skills and tools, and so he turned to his woodworking father, Roy for assistance. Prior to his father’s involvement, Judd would carve the wood himself before printing one or two copies. It was a process of thinking with his hands - thinking through doing. Once he had relinquished the labour of cutting the wood, Judd was able to take a step back, to isolate the ideas in his head from the making process, which now required translation and became more deliberate.

Together, father and son embarked on a collaborative printmaking venture that would free Judd from the burden of making and allow his woodcuts to evolve into the mature rectilinear forms in the present works.

No longer limited by his own carpentry skills, Judd worked prolifically throughout the 1960s on a series of geometric woodcut iterations that focused on the binary. He tested various thicknesses of line and modification of shape, with the cut of the wood dictating an either/or situation: either wood (colour) or line (blank paper). However, it is not until 1986, with Judd’s production of four woodcuts for the portfolio For Joseph Beuys that the artist departs from the series of parallelograms, and we see a true visual predecessor to the present works.

With Untitled,1988, Judd pushed his spatial experimentations further, creating a sequence of works that elaborate upon the possibilities for dividing pictorial space. The series itself is formed of five sets of pairs, each one the direct inverse of the other, alternating richly inked solids and paper voids. The pairs are then rhythmically subdivided into halves and thirds, creating numerous possibilities of space for the viewer to inhabit.

In his 1958 book The Poetics of Space, French philosopher Gaston Bachelard described the lived experience of space, surmising that "it is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality." Despite his choice of medium, Judd’s divisions of pictorial space are not hard-edged, prescriptive boxes confining the viewer’s eye to the paper surface and the inked borders. Instead, his meticulous divisions and subdivisions can be read as the start of pattern that hints towards endless repetition. The viewer is invited to choose which rectangle to visually inhabit, and to imagine the numerous possibilities of space created by a single colour, and just a few, elegant and precisely carved lines.

This set of woodcuts can also be found in the collection of the Tate, MoMA, SFMoMA, and the The Judd Foundation.

Donald Judd (1928-1994)
The complete set of 10 woodcuts in black, on Okawara paper
Each 23 1/4 in. x 31 1/2 in : 59.0 x 80.0 cm
Each from the edition of 25, signed and numbered by the artist in pencil on the reverse
A matching set, the original colophon and fabric-covered portfolio accompany these works
Published by Brooke Alexander Editions, New York
Private Collection, Germany
Jörg Schellmann 177-186
No Longer Available

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