Polly Apfelbaum’s recent prints with Durham Press exhibit her characteristic chromatic exuberance—as she has said, “I can’t imagine too much color.” Love Alley offers an explosion of stylized floral silhouettes reminiscent of both 1960s Flower Power and Matisse’s late paper cutouts, while Rainbow Ribbons and Split Ribbons embody playful color spectrums that pulsate in the retina à la Op Art.
This blithe appearance belies their production. They are, perhaps surprisingly, woodblock prints. For the Love Alley prints (which exist in both a brightly colored and a quieter yet equally exhilarating black and white version) Apfelbaum drew floral doodles on thin white paper that was cut and pasted onto board to make a multitude of woodblocks for printing. Working with Durham Press since 2004, Apfelbaum has produced approximately 800 flower blocks. She assigns them colors and arranges them in compositions, some of which are printed just once while others become the basis for editions (in this case a jig is built to insure the blocks remain in the same place for each impression.)
The Rainbow Ribbons set of four monoprints, and the Split Ribbons set of twelve, rely on systematic variations of 132 sticks, inked with some 40 colors per print. Apfelbaum arranged the sticks in the desired spectrum (this must be done quickly before the inks dry), the sticks were set into a jig, and the jig was run through an etching press.
The performative element inherent in Apfelbaum’s printing process—from her gestural floral doodles to her rapid arrangement of inked sticks—is an essential link to her well-known ‘fallen paintings.’ This laborious, tactile process is all but hidden behind a façade of aesthetic insouciance. Only the prints’ monumentality hints at hard work (the smallest is a sweeping 32 x 68 inches.) Even the lack of surface texture masks the process: the wood grain and incision marks of penetrating tools that are so often part and parcel of woodblock prints are masked under a sheen of unsullied color. “If it looks joyful,” Apfelbaum has exclaimed, “I’m so happy.”