Note from Dan: The other night out of the blue I got an email from a writer and artist in California. His name is Loren Kantor and that’s him on the left — his woodcut self portrait. He sucked me in with a pitch to look at two others he’s produced — of American writers Jack Kerouac and Charles Bukowski, authors whose work I admire. That started a minor email exchange. With his permission I’ve cobbled together this guest post from those emails and some stuff on his blog, Woodcuttingfool. Enjoy!
By Loren Kantor
I fell in love with woodcuts in the 80s when I attended a German Expressionist art show at the Los Angeles County Museum. The exhibit featured the work of Kathe Kollwitz, George Grosz & Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized by the stark lines and brusque images. The images were simple yet immensely powerful.
In the early 90′s I lived near the San Francisco Mission District which housed small art galleries on every block. I came across a new generation of woodcut & linocut artists, most of whom were Latino. The aesthetic themes were largely inspired by Catholic iconography and “Day of the Dead” imagery. I was able to see artists up close as they immersed themselves in the carving process. Something in me clicked. I suddenly reaiized ‘I can do this.’
About four years ago my wife gave me a woodcutting set for my birthday. I viewed some online tutorial videos and I dove in headfirst. At the time, I was immersing myself in Bogart & Cagney Film Noir flicks. We needed art for our walls at home so I began carving images inspired by film noir and classic movies. I later learned the roots of film noir came from German Expressionist movies so this provided a nice link to the woodcuts.
I started giving a few prints to friends for birthday & holiday gifts. I was overwhelmed by their reaction. People wanted additional prints. Friends wanted me to carve images of their babies (not a good idea I learned; babies are too pristine and woodcuts bring out the rough edges). A gallery commissioned me to carve an image of Charles Bukowski for a local Bukowski event.
The buzz and attention was wonderful. But I had to slow down. The woodcutting process is slow and tedious and each image takes 40-60 hours to complete. This is what I love about the process. It forces me to relax. If I make a big mistake I have to start over. I learn to live with the small mistakes which often yield “happy accidents.” It’s all about letting go. It’s fair to say woodcutting has become my personal yoga.
The woodcut/linocut prints sell for $35-$45 each. I get about 40-50 quality pressings from each carved block. The print sizes are typically 4″ x 6,” 5″x 7″ or 6″ x 8.”
I was born and raised in a San Fernando Valley suburb nicknamed “Hebrew Heights.” I was a kvetcher as a boy, the type of kid who in little league was hit by a pitch on the shoulder and limped to first base.
At age 10, I got in trouble at a synagogue-sponsored summer camp for claiming Sammy Davis Jr. as my favorite Jewish cultural figure. My adolescent years were painful: too much acne, not enough confidence and a bit too much weed. My teenage salvation was the music of Peter Gabriel, the writing of Henry Miller and the basketball genius of Magic Johnson.
In my 20′s I had a succession of terrible jobs: customer service rep at an oven mitt factory, ditch-digger for a “Zombie Graveyard” B-Movie, supermarket food promoter for a black-eyed pea distributor (which required me to dress in a black-eyed pea costume).
My worst job was as a urine carrier for a San Francisco law firm. Prospective legal employees were required to take urine drug tests and it was my duty to transport the fluid from the law offices to a testing lab a mile away. Fortunately I never had any accidents though one guy offered me $100 to swap my piss for his.
For the past two decades I’ve worked in the film and music industries. I’ve embraced the “wisdom of letting go” and I’ve come to accept Hunter Thompson’s eternal law of success: “When the sh– clears and the dust settles, just be there.”