Art Review Archives:
Images from the Neocerebellum:
by George A. Walker
So opens the first entry in George Walker's Images from the Neocerebellum, an engaging and curious compendium of dream-notation and intimate small wood engravings by the noted Canadian woodcut artist. Twenty-five years ago, Walker began keeping a dream diary as part of the course 'Inscape Psychology' at the Ontario College of Art in the 1980s. Shortly thereafter, he added to the written diary the exercise of carving of an accompanying image in wood engraving, each image synthesizing the essence of the dream into a single visual representation. Images from the Neocerebellum gathers seventy-three entries and their engravings into a single volume, the brief texts paired with imaginative illustrations to form an exploration of the surreality of dreaming, and the use of art to reveal the creative imagery of the unconscious.
With their fragmentary nature the dreams themselves have a strong likeness to the suspension of logic or selective focus possible in poetry, and the isolation of each dream entry on its own page reinforces that association. Some are vignettes, haiku-like in their brief suggestiveness:
Others are brief narratives, or explanations by the artist on the source or recurrent frequency of certain dreams. If there is an argument for a shared consciousness it is just how many familiar dream sensations one finds here: mysterious personages, erotic encounters, impressions of waking, the hall of unfamiliar doors, the suspension of gravity, memory or logic as the dream world recreates in itself aspects of waking, freed from their usual moorings. On the facing page is the accompanying illustration, revealing the artist's own visions and impressions of the dream that stayed with him on waking. Where the quick motion of a brush or pencil across the paper can represent thought in a spontaneous flicker, wood engraving's execution demands diligence and skill to plan the image and carve the design from the block. As Walker notes in his introduction, the labor-intensive work gives him time to muse on the dream itself as follows the process to recreate his impressions as a succinct, printable image.
Simple curiosity would make reading another's dream diary interesting. Walker's woodcut images elevate it to the level of an artistic exercise, giving an opportunity to see the artist's selection and interpretation in condensing the dream material into a single image. The results are a diverse collection, from stylized or whimsical renditions to dramatic sculpting of form through shade and implied volume. A significant part of the delight is the idea of a glimpse into the private illustrated diaries of this accomplished artist, works conceived in Walker's unconscious (dreaming) and rendered for his own personal interest or study. Should I draw or should I eat? (each dream-notation and its engraving bears a title) is an example of the straightforward, firmly-modeled completeness of the image, here a pair of wood engravings showing the left hand holding a pencil, the right holding a spoon, each balancing the other with the subconscious questions an artist must face. Dark Angel contrasts the solid shadowy figure of the angel or messenger with a free-form background of boldly carved spirals and swirls, adding to the sense of turbulent mystery surrounding the figure. The bizarre and frightful enters with the image of Timmy the Pierced Face Wonder. Skinhead (despite the connotations of its title) is a sensitive portrait, a close-shaven figure the artist notes as identifying with his father in the dream. A turn of the page brings the barely-controlled chaos of the whirling Birds of a Feather. Many of these small cuts would function well as standalone images, even without the added context of the dream notation.
Wood engraving provides for and even tends toward the working of expanses of perfect black, and that tendency is used to compelling effect. Walker's blacks are deep, rich, dominating the compositions and seeming to stand in for the darkness of the unconscious mind as well as the dark night of dreams taking place. Three dreams from 2001 show the artist's particular ability to conjure the suggestion of a modeled form with only a few strokes (white) on an untouched background (black). In Praise of a Lunar Phase depicts a woman dancing before the full moon. The dark background isolates her in a featureless, placeless space. he contours of the woman's body; only the upraised arms and rounded contours of her buttocks catch the light, as if seen by moonlight itself. But it is no moonlight, really. It is dream-light, the reality which obeys no natural laws, the perception of events which may include images as isolated as these two communing figures. The following entries, Father, Lunatic, Mask and Animality show the continuity of dreaming and imagery with their similar figures, this time male, one crouching, one standing.
The neocerebellum itself is the youngest portion of the cerebral cortex, the one most in control of voluntary limb movements -- the artist uses it as referential to the motor control required to interpret the phantasms of his dreams in his chosen medium. An introduction by Walker, and an afterword on dream interpretation by Jungian psychologist Daryl Sharp, each touch on dreaming itself and its important, if unfathomable function with regard to the health of the psyche. As Sharp points out, purely personal associations with dream imagery are less important than the archetypal associations shared as part of our cultural consciousness. That is, perhaps, part of what makes Images from the Neocerebellum so fascinating: the blending of sensations that seem uncannily familiar with imagery that is uniquely the artist's own.
--Katherine R. Lieber
Editorial Note: Images from the Neocerebellum: The Wood Engravings of George A. Walker and other books mentioned in www.artscope.net reviews may be purchased through ArtScope.net's Amazon.com link or by clicking on the link above. A previous book by George Walker, The Woodcut Artist's Handbook, was reviewed by ArtScope.net in January 2006 (http://www.artscope.net/VAREVIEWS/woodcuthandbook0106.shtml). Graphic Witness: Four Wordless Graphic Novels (Firefly Books: Sep 2007), a collection of four graphic novels by Frans Masereel, Lynd Ward, Giacomo Patri and Laurence Hyde and with an introduction by George Walker, will be featured in a forthcoming review by ArtScope.net.