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Ben Likes to Work Big--- And Wood Print Proves it

From the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 1964
By Ted Simmons

 

In the McBurney Building of the Atlanta Art Association there hangs a wood block print named "Samson Enchained" that is six-feet, nine-inches tall and 60 inches wide.

It may be the biggest wood block print in existence, and its size certainly is a revelation to those who assume that such prints are book plate size.

But to its creator, the print's size has no significance, except that he prefers to work large instead of small.

The creator is 23-year-old Ben Smith, who is doing extremely interesting work in the field of wood block printing, an art form which had faded into obscurity until Frasconi started a renaissance more than 20 years ago.

Smith's "Samson" is the largest work he's ever done, but he usually works on things which are much larger than most people expect for wood block printing.

In Four Colors

His "Solomon," for example, is about four feet by four feet and is in four colors. This is the print which won first place in the Cooperstown art show and the Southeastern Print and Drawing Exhibit in Jacksonville, Fla., at which the famous print maker Gabor Petardi was judge.

Although the size of his work is unusual, Smith is quick to point out that he does not work in large sizes to attract attention to his work.

He does not go in for the "effective eccentricity" which marks the work of many your artists. "It's much easier for me to design on a large surface," he says. "It's easier for me to get enthusiastic on a large surface."

For the uninitiated, wood block printing is a complicated art form that involves conceiving an idea, drawing or painting it, carving it on a wood block, inking the block and pressing the design onto paper.

In the case where colors are involved, like "Solomon" (four colors) and "Joseph" (six colors), a wood block is required for every color in the print.

Smith prints by hand (without a press) mainly because a press which could handle the size of his wood blocks would be very expensive, and also because hand printing makes for more individuality in each print he makes.

With a print the size of Sampson," for example, inkings the block requires two hours and an additional two hours for printing, although only one block is involved.

The result is a work of art that may be the new status symbol for the middle classes

Costs Are Less

Since print makers can make a number of prints from their blocks, they can be sold much cheaper than paintings, and yet they contain the originality and artistic touch paintings have.

Smith, who started work in ceramics in the Atlanta Art School's junior school when he was six, majored in painting when he took his professional certificate after four years at the school.

He did so with the idea, however, or using his training in wood block printing. Currently he teaches special classes at the school and is taking academic courses which were not offered when he attended in order to get a degree.