A Modest Place of Origin: An Essay by Aubrey Levinthal

A Modest Place of Origin

An Essay by Aubrey Levinthal

“…spread India ink on an uncarved board, lay paper on top of it and print it…Whatever I carve I compare with an uncarved print and ask myself, ‘Which has more beauty, more strength, more depth, more magnitude, more movement, and more tranquility?’ If there is anything here that is inferior to an uncarved block, then I have not created my print. I have lost to the board.” Matt looks up from the monograph on master printer Shiko Munakata he just read from and sighs, “Isn’t that great?” We are sitting in his studio surrounded by blocks of wood, antique tools, and well worn, handsome furniture drinking coffee made in his grandmother’s original Pyrex on the stove. His reverence for Munakata’s sentiment explains much of how he moves through the world and makes his work. Respect for the materials and their origin, respect for technical ability, respect for printmakers gone before, respect for imagery with strength, depth, magnitude and tranquility.

Like influential Japanese masters Munakata, Hokusai or Matsubara, Colaizzo also looks to the natural world for source material. However, unlike his predecessors, Matt lives in our contemporary world rife with environmental degradation, development and apathetic attitudes. Rather than harp on the destruction and tension between man-made and natural worlds, a cliché well worn out in 2015, he takes a subtler approach. Armed with a sketchbook and camera Colaizzo simply looks to what is out in the world, nearby, without judgment or political agenda. For this body of new work at NAPOLEON, what’s out in the world happens to be rubble piles from construction of a new I-95 on-ramp.

Wall of preparatory drawings and source material

Wall of preparatory drawings and source material

He returns to the studio and makes a number ofetailed drawings from these sources, looking for clarity and balance in composition. Then through a long process involving carving into multiple boards, mixing and layering multiple inks, and scrutinizing multiple proofs, he arrives at a print that satisfies that original parameter. The investment of time and labor elevates the knotty pine from which it came.

The actual printing of a piece like Untitled(Locality 1) takes all day, from 9am to 8pm, a slow, meditative burn during which the carefully planned and executed cuts into panel meet unexpected marks in the paper, ink or wood grain. This entwining of high technical skill and order with fortuitous chance instills the print with a balance of yin and yang, wabi-sabi, that echoes the marvel of nature.

From the Locality Series, 2015, Woodcut on Paper

From the Locality Series, 2015, Woodcut on Paper

And in fact, the work’s deepest power pulls from the very modest place of its origin too. Rendering slag, a rejected, often dismayed material with such care and poetics as Hokusai renders Mt. Fuji states more eloquently what it means to uproot nature than any more forthright attempt. Colaizzo lets us first see nature as the powerful, unmovable mountain so frequently depicted in eras gone by. But then, the subject matter shifts into focus. Like the sad beauty of a giant beast rolled over in its last breath, and then, just a carcass, this second wave of understanding hits in the gut; beauty, strength, depth and magnitude expanding through your stomach.

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji in Clear Weather (Red Fuji), from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, ca. 1830–1832. Color woodcut

Katsushika Hokusai, Fuji in Clear Weather (Red Fuji), from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, ca. 1830–1832. Color woodcut

The installation of the work adds to this sensation, with four panels facing inward, one must fully turn their body in the space to take in the panorama. It is simultaneously sacred, the way four walls envelope the viewer, and expansive, as the space in the work seems to be vast and limitless. The viewer is in the center and as Colaizzo explains, they are not the center in much the way humans think they are at the epicenter of everything, but they are in the center due to of the roundness of the earth which dictates that there is no center, there is no beginning and there is no end.



About the Author:

Aubrey Levinthal is a painter and instructor who occasionally writes about art. She lives and works in Philadelphia. Levinthal received her MFA from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and has recently exhibited her work at Woodmere Art Museum, Gross McCleaf and Ceruleans Arts in Philadelphia and Novella Gallery and Trestle Projects in New York City. She is the recipient of a 2013 Elizabeth Greenshields Grant.

To download a PDF version of this essay, click Collaizo_Levinthal_JUNE_2015

2 Responses to “A Modest Place of Origin: An Essay by Aubrey Levinthal”
  1. luckyavocado says:

    Thanks for this beautiful essay.CourtneyDate: Sun, 31 May 2015 02:13:35 +0000 To: courtneymandryk@hotmail.com

  2. andreakrupp says:

    Beautiful writing, beautiful woodcuts. Munakata was, is, an important influence on me as well. I am so glad to learn of Matts work. Thanks!

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