When Allegra Pesenti, associate curator at the Grunwald Center for the Graphic Arts at the Hammer Museum, stumbled across scrolls of woodcut prints from the Cuban revolution in a storage room at UCLA, she was mesmerized and moved to delve deeper into the medium of woodcutting. The end result is the upcoming exhibit, "Gouge: The Modern Woodcut 1870 to Now." The simplest and most ancient form of printing, woodcutting dates to the 8th century in Asia when Buddhist monks developed the technique to produce devotional texts. A woodcut requires just a block of wood, ink, paper and a cutting tool known as a gouge, and it is common around the world.
Pesenti was most intrigued by the images produced at the end of the 19th century by modern artists such as Paul Gauguin, Edvard Munch, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, who each have pieces on display. "It was the first time artists incorporated the grain of the wood in wood blocks as part of the image," Pesenti said. Up until then artists tried to mask the fact that their compositions were made from wood. These emerging artists appreciated the organic, grainy nature of the wood and the gritty, raw line created with the gouge.