Printmaker George Raab lives in the pretty little town of Millbrook just south of Peterborough, a town with one of everything – one barber, one bank, one pharmacy, a grocery store, a Legion. Also home to 4th Line Theatre, Millbrook is a town so small that they still call you “hon” at the local café where farmers gather for gossip and pie.
At an open house a few years ago, I visited his 2 story studio which overlooks rolling fields beside his handsome Georgian farmhouse; it is the envy of any printmaker. The yard was full of colourful heritage chickens. Raab has made a wonderful life here. One son is filmmaker Jared Raab, and his wife is writer Evelyn Raab who was the brains behind the late, great Millbrook International 3 Minute Film Festival.
Printmakers are an interesting breed – part fine artist, part skilled technician. An industrial sized press fills the upper floor of the studio. Raab’s work is entirely rooted in his relationship with nature and his own photography is at the core of his practice. At once graphically striking and nostalgic, his intaglio prints appear in all shapes and sizes. Working from one of his photos etched onto a metal plate, he continues to hand work the plate to his satisfaction, then begins the process of inking, wiping and printing – a painstaking process, considering the scale of many of these works. Intaglio is an art form that is exacting yet unpredictable, slightly removed from the subject, but leaving the indelible mark of its maker on every edition.
This master craftsman’s work has grown from hand-tinted realism to more abstract work with pattern or line and a little more edge, elegant in black and white or with the merest of colour washes. His work can capture the hyper-real majesty of a wilderness landscape like Ansel Adams, or command attention to an intimate portrait of a blade of grass in the snow. The images of Into the Woods range from a solitary tree, to a stand of birch, to a swamp at dusk. Raab’s work embodies the forest’s theatre of light. It’s not a perfect landscape but the tangled messiness of the forest in all its moods; the wood we remember from childhood that is exciting in its foreboding, lonely and familiar at the same time. This is the place where we have known true privacy and a sense of freedom from artifice and Raab tells its stories because he cares deeply about its preservation. In addition to a selection of forest inspired etchings, the current show, which fills the main gallery of the Art Gallery of Peterborough, includes a departure for him: suspended sheets of translucent fabric with tree image transfers impart an experiential reverence and depth.
George Raab has traveled extensively and exhibited the world over; his work is represented in many important international collections. Still I get the feeling from his work that wherever he may be, in the woods he is home.
Curated by Carla Garnet, Into the Woods opens June 13th to September 1, 2013 at the Art Gallery of Peterborough, and will be touring to the Art Gallery of Kamloops, followed by public galleries in Burnaby, B.C., Thunder Bay, Sault Ste. Marie, and Northumberland in Ontario.