Loren Kantor is a Hollywood based woodcutting artist; here is a link to his website:
Q: What made you interested in woodcutting?
A: I first became interested in Woodcuts after seeing an exhibit at LA County Museum featuring German Expressionism. I encountered the Woodcut Prints of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz and Karl Schmidt-Rotluff. I was mesmerized by the stark lines and bold imagery. The characters expressed emotional angst and the images focused on the shadowy and uncomfortable aspects of society. The art was broken down to its constituent elements: black lines on white paper. Simple but deeply nuanced. I was blown away. I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself at the time. But the images remained in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.
Q: Why film noir?
A: During my college days, I took a film noir class and immersed myself in the classics: Sunset Blvd., Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, Laura. I fell in love with the stark black and white photography, the sinister shadows, the cynical heroes and enticing femme fatales. The idea to carve images from Noir Films came about because we needed art for our walls at home. I realized the stark imagery of black & white films was a perfect match for the carved lines of a woodcut. The roots of film noir cinematography came from German Expressionist movies. Film noir explores the dark shadows beneath the bright lights. Woodcuts are all about dark and light so this provided a nice link to woodcut printing.
Q: What kind of wood do you use?
A: Friends are always bringing me small pieces of wood and plywood for my carving. The important thing is that the wood is clean otherwise it won’t yield an effective print. I first started carving on soft woods like pine and cedar. These are easier to carve though the wood sometimes compresses during printing. Hard woods like cherry and birch yield the best results but the wood is incredibly difficult to carve. These days I’ve taken to carving on linoleum which I mount to a wood block prior to printing.
Q:What is your process in creating a carving?
A: The process begins when I find an image or a photo that moves me. From here, I’ll make a loose pencil sketch on paper that I’ll hone over a few weeks. The sketch is crucial since the half tones of a photograph must be converted to line art. Once I’m happy with the sketch, I’ll transfer the image to a wood or linoleum block with a burnishing tool. Now I’m ready to carve. I use standard carving gouges and blades. The carving can take 2-3 weeks depending on the complexity of the image. The area I carve does not print. The area I do not carve does print. As such, you need to think in reverse. The carved block serves as a “negative” much like a film negative. Any text must be carved backwards so it prints forward. It’s a bit of a mind warp, but this makes it fun.
Q:Of which of your sculptures are you most proud?
A: I’m most proud of my carved portraits like David Lynch, Billy Wilder and Charlie Chaplin. It’s always exciting when an image comes to life and evokes the personality of the subject as if the print were a photograph.
Q: What made you interested in sculpting the Torah?
A: My interest in carving the Torah came about because my paternal grandfather was a Torah scribe. He spent up to a year scrawling a Torah scroll by hand with a fountain pen and an inkwell. Small mistakes he could scrape away and ink again unless he made a mistake writing the name of God. This could not be scraped away since God’s name can never be erased. Woodcuts are similar in the sense that once a gouge is carved, it’s permanent. Small mistakes you learn to live with. If you make a big mistake you have to start from scratch.
Q: What was your most challenging sculpture?
A: My most challenging print was Billy Wilder due to the nature of the shadows. I was working with an iconic photo of Mr. Wilder and I was trying to depict his face in half shadow much like Wilder’s classic movie Double Indemnity featured the characters.
Q: Who are some of your artistic influences?
A: My favorite woodcut artists are Paul Landacre and Lynd Ward. Both were American printmakers from the early 20th Century. They gained notoriety from their cross-hatch engraving yielding detailed and meticulous prints. When I see their work I’m dumbfounded. I can’t even imagine attempting the work they created. I think I would go insane from the subtlety and repetition. When carving my woodcuts, I’m inspired by music. I’ll typically play music that has a connection to the image I’m carving. When carving Thom Yorke, I listened to Radiohead. When carving Jim Jarmush, I listened to Ethiopian jazz musician Mulatu Astatke (whose music was featured in Jarmusch’s film Broken Flowers). When carving Charlie Chaplin, I listed to Caruso since it evoked the early 1900’s. Obviously, classic movies inform much of my work as well. I love film noir, screwballcomedies and classic thrillers like North By Northwest and The French Connection.
Q: How did you get your first show?
A: My first art show was somewhat bizarre. My wife and I were checking out some galleries in Downtown Los Angeles when a young woman came over with a plate of bacon. (Though I’m Jewish, I can’t resist a good piece of bacon.) The woman was advertising her own art-music gallery called Bacon Social. We spoke for a few minutes and she invited me to display my work in her next show. The event was a kind of all-night pseudo rave with blaring music, flashing lights, flowing alcohol and of course, tons of free bacon. I didn’t sell any work that night. Flashing lights and loud music are not the best scenario for viewing art. Since then I’ve exhibited in several dozen art shows, none of which included fried pork bellies.
Q: Who is your bestseller?
A: My best selling Woodcut Print is a piece called “The Open Road.” It features a carved image of US Highway 163 winding through Monument Valley in Arizona. The location was a backdrop to many famous movies including The Searchers, How The West Was Won, Easy Rider and Forrest Gump. In my early 20’s, I took a drove through Monument Valley and took several rolls of black and white photographs. The woodcut is based on one of these photos.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)