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Michael Gill woodcut centers exhibit on children’s books but ideas and imagery are very serious

Creative research is something that is often difficult to maintain. Too often an artist finds only a limited market for her work, or they may also find the process of promoting their work to a wider audience daunting. That is why it’s important to support local venues that offer exhibition spaces that support this type of intellectual experimentation.

Massillon Museum’s Studio M is an exhibition space inside the museum that showcases the artistic talents of local, regional and national artists. The current exhibit, “Michael Gill: The Grownups Keep Talking/Nobody Knows Why,” is a strong example of why exhibition spaces like Studio M are so valuable and important to the Northeast Ohio community.

Michael Gill is a Cleveland-based writer and artist who is perhaps best known as the founder and executive director of the Collective Arts Network and editor/publisher of CAN Journal. His exhibit by him features woodcut prints from two of his books by him, “Common Household Rhymes for the Modern Child” and “A Pocket Full of Change,” along with original examples of those books and others.

In his statement about the show, Gill says: “I came to woodcut and letterpress printmaking as a writer, in the midst of a career that began with poetry and evolved into long form journalism. When my children were beginning to read, what came out of me was writing for them. And it was the need to give them these stories and poems that drew me to learn how to set type, carve and print with blocks of wood, and ultimately make books.”

The resulting artwork is graphically interesting and brightly colored illustrations that correspond to the stories in Gill’s books. The pieces also hold on to interesting aspects that are unique to the woodcutting technique. Features like wood grain and the marks of the woodcutting tools are embraced and used to enhance the chosen imagery.

“He Wanted to Finish the Job,” color woodcut from artist book, 2015

“I Wanted to Finish the Job” is a color woodcut artist’s proof from 2018. It corresponds to a particular passage in Gill’s book “A Pocket Full of Change,” which is available to look through in the Studio M gallery.

In the image a child rides a bike on a tree-lined street that has different styles of houses on it. The houses, trees and bike rider are all done in black ink. The sky behind the scene is blue, and a shaft of yellow light from the sky illuminates the bike rider. Other colors are used too: gray for the street and red for one of the houses.

It’s an approachable and joyful image that, like all of the work included in the show, uses wood grain as an interesting textural element.

“His Mind Was on the Boxcars,” color woodcut

“His Mind Was on the Boxcars” is a color woodcut artist’s proof from 2015. This work also corresponds to Gill’s book “A Pocket Full of Change.”

The piece features images of red box cars with a red caboose. On the caboose is a graffiti painting of a face with what looks like a graffiti tag next to it. In the foreground are railroad tracks done in gray, and the background features a blue sky with the wood grain pattern showing through. This “sky bound” wood grain substitutes nicely as a representation of clouds.

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