Woodblock printmaker, Rod Nelson, has something to celebrate. After seven attempts to be accepted as a member by the Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers, his time has come! This year he was awarded the great honour of becoming an Associate Member, an accolade equivalent to a PhD.
Based at Bankside Gallery, next to Tate Modern, The Royal Society of Painter-Printmakers is one of the world’s premier printmaking organisations. All of the society’s members are practising, professional printmakers elected after a selection by a panel of their peers. The process is rigorous and we would like to extend our sincere congratulations!
Rod is a true Renaissance-man with a winning combination of a mathematical mind and a creative eye. As a highly skilled craftsman (former boat builder and musical instrument maker) and woodblock printmaker, he approaches his work with a great deal of prudence and planning. The rest is given over to creative flair. The results are elegant, peaceful and often include water, waterfalls or crashing waves. The combination of technical ability, subtle colour palette and play on light is an intoxicating combination.
How would you describe yourself?
“As an artist, you need to have the skin of a rhino and the sensitivity of a butterfly,” says Rod, with typical insight. He goes on to reference a 16th century Aztec poem to describe his life as an artist, “To what extent I am able to live up to this description, I’m not able to judge, but better to aim high and miss than not to have an ideal.”
The artist: disciple, abundant, multiple, restless.
The true artist: capable, practicing, skillful: maintains dialogue with his heart, meets things with his mind.
The true artist: draws out all from his heart, works with delight, makes things with calm and sagacity, works like a true craftsman, composes his objects, works dextrously, invents, arranges materials, adorns them, makes them adjust.
Hokusai – a significant influence
When we first meet Rod in the gallery, he chats excitedly about his many influences, in particular that of Katsushika Hokusai who assumed over 25 different names and personas. Rod was considering the merits of taking on a new name alongside new artistic avenues….
A Japanese ukiyo-e artist (1760 – 1849) best known for his seminal work ‘The Great Wave off Kanagawa’ (the original hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and his woodblock print series ‘Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji’. In a long and successful career, taking him to the grand old age of 88, Hokusai produced over 30,000 paintings, sketches, woodblock prints, and images for picture books in total. Innovative in his compositions and exceptional in his drawing technique, Hokusai is considered one of the greatest masters in the history of art.
Rod has spent much time studying his work and trying to go deeper into who Hokusai might have been as a person and as an artist. What he found is extraordinary and certainly unexpected.
“Take for example his ‘Japaneseness’. Japanese culture is an astonishing legacy, but there is a notion of the Japanese aesthetic as perhaps being tightly bound by culture or convention. Hokusai isn’t like this at all. He constantly exceeds bounds – not for him the meek dedication of the traditional artist-craftsman. He is acquainted to some extent with the world outside Japan. He is a teacher, a social person, a maverick, a self-promoter, financially successful, full of confidence and something of a rebel, restless. Two stories about his life illustrate this.
One story has him in direct competition with a traditional brush artist in front of the Shogun Iyenari. Hokusai lays down with his brush a great blue curve on paper, then chases across it a chicken whose feet had been dipped in red paint. With a flourish, he calls his and the chicken’s work, ‘Tatsuta River with red maple leaves floating’ and promptly wins the competition. On another occasion, during the Tokyo festival in 1804, he created a portrait of the Buddhist priest Daruma said to be 600 feet (180 m) long using a broom and buckets full of ink.
Thirty One Names
Secondly, he chose to have at least thirty one names during his lifetime. The name by which we know him isn’t his ‘birth’ name, and Hokusai Katsushika simply means ‘North Studio in Katsushika province’. Born Tokitaro, he published his first series of prints in 1779 under the name Shunro, given by his first master. In later life, he referred to himself as Gakyo rojin manji, or The Old Man Mad About Art.”
While it was not uncommon for Japanese artists to change their names, Hokusai did so more often than any other major artist of his era, roughly once every decade, occasionally adopting informal nicknames. The name changes denote different artist styles and different periods of production. It’s an idea that fascinates Rod, who considers other suitable names for himself….
“Hokusai must have been exploring in an extended and profound way what it might be like to have multiple artistic personae, and though we can’t ask him directly, maybe multiple personalities.”
During further research we discovered that not only did he enjoy multiple names, a predilection for new titles….but also an obsession with moving house. Although he never left the same region, Hokusai lived in more than ninety dwellings during his lifetime!
“I expect the situation I find myself in is shared by many artists, who have more ideas in the pipeline than time to realise them. The realities of life dictate that I give priority attention to those ideas that might generate some income and of course, there is guesswork involved in this. I also want to work at those aspects that interest me most. The ideal situation for me is when these two coincide, which they often do.
I am looking at alternative ways to present work for sale. I am making work to be mounted on a scroll and this is a beautiful method of presentation when it is done in the traditional style. There is a very good Chinese craftsman in London, and the result is a very high quality item. It is particularly suited to prints that are tall and thin in proportion. I am also working on two prints for a small gallery in South Devon which are of a particular format which this gallery requires.
I also like to try out different techniques for my work. I have been fascinated by ways of depicting undulation on a surface (of cloth, or of water). I am also working on techniques of using woodblocks to give the effect of water as it breaks into a shower of spray.
I am also in the final stages of writing a book on woodblock print, which has been more than a year in the making, and which regularly takes me outside my comfort zone in terms of shaping words to convey ideas. All in all, every day is busy for me and in a way that I feel extremely lucky to be able to enjoy.
We currently have four artworks for sale in our Chipping Campden gallery. You can also see his work at Fresh Art Fair, Ascot (23rd – 25th September 2022) where we will be exhibiting all our artists.
Rod Nelson and fellow Art Cotswold artist Rachel McDonnell will be hosting a joint exhibition of work in January 2023 under the proposed theme ‘A Quiet Mind.’ Please subscribe to our newsletter to hear about forthcoming exhibitions.
32 x 27.5″ framed
43 x 25.5″ framed
33 x 41.5″ framed
38 x 26.5″ framed