Sunday, December 2, 2012

Clifford Webb: Britain's Master Engraver

As seen in the image to the lower right, Webb's view of the world may deal with the everyday scenery, but he includes for us the occasional vision or miraculous encounter. In this case, the male, whose backside is facing us, is wandering amongst the marshes and reeds. His nakedness is well-hidden in the brush, however with the glorious rise of dawn illuminating all the sun rays touch, he finds himself face to face with the unexpected - an angel. The tall, thin figure with delicate transparent wings beholds the startled man and they look upon one another. The viewer is just as much in awe of seeing the event as the male. He is transfixed to the spot, wondering if his eyes are playing tricks upon him and the angel will evaporate with the ad the mist rises.It is a timeless image and catches our breath as we may or may not have had similar experiences.

British artist Clifford Webb1895 – 1972, apprenticed with a lithographer in his early days. He served in World War I in the Near East. After his service, he studied art at the Westminster School of Art under teachers Walter Bayes and Bernard Meninsky. From 1923-26 he taught part-time at theCentral School of Art, in Birmingham. He received his RBA degree in 1936, and his RE degree  in 1948. 
Webb was recognized as a great wood engraver. This process is often difficult to master, but beautiful and his expertise of it is well-represented here. He falls in line with other British artists that work in the medium, like Claire Leighton. Webb's work had clear structure, engaging compositions and a virtuosity of mark-making. Unfortunately, not much has been written about Webb’s prints, but Studio magazine published an article about his work in August 1949. An exhibition of his prints took place in 1982 at Leicester Polytechnic. Other than that scant bit of information, we have to go to books to see his wood-engraved illustrations. They vary according to subject, of course, but it is his delightful sense of composition and marks that glues us to them. 

The image above of the three graces are again a wonder to behold. They are unaware of being watched from afar, and we would like it to remain so, except that there is a dragon-like creature milling about in the shadows. We want to warn the women, but we don't want to tip off the dragon that we know it is there as well. We are therefore in a quandry as to how to best proceed with due diligence. 
Webb prolifically wrote and illustrated ten children’s books and about 25 books by other authors. He also illustrated eight books for the celebrated Golden Cockerel Press between 1937 and 1954. Specializing in animal drawings, he also produced the illustrations for the first two books of the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome,
This image above is a wonderful composition that speaks about man's balance with Nature, hearing the song of the birds and the rustling of leaves in the tress. Here, the man looks out from his work and is nestled in the bosom of Nature's bounty. Below our subject is almost overwhelmed by the breadth of landscape. He can sow those fields for as long as the eye can see, and his journey will take him far away, indeed. The linear quality of this image reminds us of the curvaceous landscapes of Thomas Hart Benton. The anticipated delights this journeyman will find   are sure to keep our rapt attention.
Other examples of Clifford Webb’s work can also be found at Alphabet of Illustrators by Chris Mullen. 

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