Autodidact: self-taught


An Interview with Artist Loren Kantor

by V. L. Craven

I’ve always liked the look of woodcuts–the concept of working with negative space is really interesting to me. So when I learned of Loren Kantor’s work, through his post about Edgar Allan Poe , I had to interview him.

Self Portrait

Self Portrait

How did you become interested in doing woodcuts? And how long have you been doing them?

My interest in woodcuts began in the mid-1980’s. I attended a German Expressionist art show at LA County Museum and I encountered the woodcut prints and paintings of George Grosz, Kathe Kollwitz and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff. I was mesmerized. I loved the stark lines and bold imagery. Characters expressed emotional angst and the images focused on the shadowy and unpleasant aspects of society. I was writing screenplays in those days and I never envisioned attempting woodcut carving myself. But the images remained in my subconscious and whenever I saw a woodcut print I felt a sense of excitement.

In 2008, my wife surprised me with a woodcutting set for my birthday. I checked out a few online tutorial videos and I dove in. The carving process was difficult at first. I cut myself often, the blocks were ragtag and I felt like a child with my first set of fingerpaints. After a few months, I was hooked. I spent hours immersed in carving. After a year I was confident enough to begin showing the prints. Friends started asking for prints for their walls. Then a stranger emailed me from Switzerland. He’d seen my blog and he wanted a custom portrait for himself. This was my first commission and I was off and running.

Poe woodcut by Lorne Kantor


Do you work in other types of media?

For years, I was an avid photographer. I shot 35mm, black and white photos and developed them in my own darkroom. Photography taught me the basics of composition and visual contrast which I now apply with my woodcutting.

You cover a wide range of subjects–how do you decide who to do a portrait of? Walk me through the steps of creating a finished piece once that decision has been made.

I love carving images of iconoclasts and independent thinkers. This applies to the celebrities I carve as well as the people in my own life. Their stories are important. But their essence is even more important. There is an ineffable quality involved in the people I choose to carve. This quality is hard to explain. Steve Buscemi has it. Charles Bukowski has it. Jim Jarmusch has it. Tom Cruise does not have it. Nor does George Lucas. I don’t have to admire all the people I carve (Richard Nixon, for example), but there needs to be something about the subject that compels me. If I don’t feel this compulsion, I don’t embark on a carving.



How long does one piece take?

When carving woodcuts, the process begins when I find an old photo or image that I like. From this image I make an initial pencil sketch which I then transfer to a wood or linoleum block. I use standard woodcutting blades and gouges and other odd tools (awls, dental implements, sewing needles. Once the image is carved I clean the block, apply a thin layer of ink and hand press the image on archival paper using a Japanese Baren (a bamboo tool that looks kind of like an air-hockey paddle). The entire process takes 40-50 hours depending on the size and complexity of the image. If I make a major mistake I have to start over. Minor mistakes I live with; they add to the organic nature of the print.

Whose work do you most enjoy–who most inspires you and why? (Woodcut artists and other artists in general.)

My favorite modern woodcut artist is Artemio Rodriguez who hails from Mexico. His work has a Catholic, day of the dead influence and his pieces reflect the challenge of living morally in a modern world. I also admire the Classic American Woodcut Artists Paul Landacre and Lynd Ward.



Do you listen to music when you work?

The woodcut process is slow and meditative. I’ll put on music when I carve to help immerse myself in the process. The choice of music seems is spontaneous. When carving Salvador Dali, I listened to the Portugese band Madredeus. When carving Charlie Chaplin, I listened to Sidney Bechet. While carving Thom Yorke I listened to Radiohead.

What subjects are next in the queue?

My next few woodcut subjects include Ernest Hemingway, Mark Mothersbaugh (of Devo), Gloria Swanson and Simon Wiesenthal.

Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with me!

Thanks for providing a great list of questions.

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