How It Was Done: The Prints of Bodo Korsig

by Reena Jane

Bodo Korsig is involved in an intense physical relationship with his materials. “I really hurt the wood,” he says of his process of hand-carving shapes for his woodcuts, indicating the intense emotional quality of his work. His most dramatic prints are created in an appropriately theatrical fashion: by using an industrial steamroller as a Brobdingnagian substitute for a traditional printing press.

Korsig uses traditional woodcutting tools when carving his giant woodblocks, sized to fit gargantuan sheets of paper that are up to fifteen feet long. [[Note: I emailed to artist to double check. I haven’t heard back from him yet.]] The artist begins his printing process by laying down one of these large sheets of paper (sometimes he also prints on canvas)on an outdoor ramp. He makes sure that the sheet is absolutely smooth before he begins. “Mistakes are painful,” he says. “My material costs when printing on this scale are quite expensive. I have to prevent as many smears and problems as possible.” He then paints a few layers of brushstrokes in black paint on the paper.. After, he adds an overcoat of a second color (he tends toward the primary colors of red, blue, yellow, as well as neutrals). Finally, he imprints using a giant carved woodblock, over which he drives the steamroller. The pressure of the steamroller allows the paint to fuse with the paper.

The large-scale prints, which take on the monumentality of a banner hanging in front of Metropolitan Museum or Art or the Louvre, are all unique, while his smaller, more conventionally sized prints, are editioned. No photographic reproductions of his complex, multi-layered prints can describe their unique textures. At first glance, they seem like paintings, as the layers take on the sensuality of brushstrokes or light impasto. In fact, his awareness of and adeptness with layering is most evident in his early encaustic paintings, which he refers to as his “training” for his later style of layered printmaking. With the large-scale woodcuts and other, smaller prints, however, he lays down swaths of color upon swaths of the same color “until it becomes a three-dimensional space,” he says. “I am not just making flat lines on a surface. I am a sculptor.”

Born in Zwickau, East Germany, Bodo Korsig studied sculpture and stone restoration, and then worked as a stone cutter, so his work “illustrates a physical confrontation with materials,” he explains. After the Berlin Wall fell, he relocated to West Germany and experimented with the various art forms that characterize his cross-disciplinary practice, which includes sculptures that look like gigantic line drawings and these prints, as well as smaller woodcuts and artist books. Today, he lives between New York and Trier, Germany, where he is a professor at the European Academy of Fine Art. He makes many of his steamroller prints in the Academy’s courtyard.

The black hues that Korsig uses are velvety and inky, very deeply saturated, seemingly without a hint of any other color. “I mix my own blacks,” he says, indicating that his understanding of black is profound and that there is a spectrum of the color to be witnessed in his overall body of work. “Just as there are many shades of black in terms of cars, bicycles, clothing, buildings, so, too are there gray blacks, green blacks, blue blacks, and others in my work.” In his smaller prints, he achieves the thickness and rich darkness of his black hues by printing black on black two to three times.

“I’ve become a formalist in the last five years,” Korsig says of his iconography, which suggest paramecia or cartoon-like monsters. Indeed, some of the images that recur in his sculptures, prints, and artist books provoke a sense of déjà vu. What might look like a cellular structure in a small sculpture or drawing looks like a planet when depicted as a large painting or print, and he likes to observe how different viewers interpret them. “I think of them as similar to Rorschach ink blots,” he explains of his mysterious iconography. “Someone will see a dead body hanging in a noose, another will see a child playing on a swing in the same image, which never was intended to be figurative.” He adds, “But two people can be in the same room, experiencing the same temperature, and one will feel hot, the other cold.” In other words, Korsig hopes that his audiences will be adventurous in their interpretations of his work, just as he has been adventurous in re-interpreting the woodblock print by adjusting his process to a truly spectacular scale.

 
2005