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Visual arts: Mark Cazalet: New Growth, Spring (Serena Morton, London)

20 May 2022

Katy Hounsell-Robert considers the inspiration of Mark Cazalet’s show

© Mark Cazalet

Mark Cazalet’s Treeform 3, monoprint woodcut and oil pastel, 122 x 90cm, October 1998. More images in the gallery

Mark Cazalet’s Treeform 3, monoprint woodcut and oil pastel, 122 x 90cm, October 1998. More images in the gallery

MARK CAZALET has always pursued his own themes in his own way and enjoyed exploring different approaches and techniques to portray the essence of a subject, usually resulting in an unexpected and surprising outcome.

In one of his many depictions of scenes from the Bible, Mary and Joseph in exile are travelling in modern dress on the Cairo Underground, with the baby Jesus in a backpack. Cazalet’s Stations of the Cross take place in the present day in west London. His Christ is portrayed not in the usual suffering close-ups, but as a small, easily missed figure, hardly noticed by people busy going about their normal daily activities and mostly treating him with indifference and, occasionally, kindness.

Over the years, Cazalet’s love and reverence for nature, especially trees, has been another of his passions. When he can get away from his busy life of lecturing, travelling, working with communities, and carrying out his many commissions, he spends time drawing or painting trees and landscape in peaceful wooded areas in Suffolk, where he and his brother share a house. This has led to his love of making woodcuts and prints and choosing hand-made paper rather than canvas or board as a base.

He admits that cutting relief prints is a vice, a secret pleasure that deepens. The joy is in the simple binary nature of the process: leave or remove. Printmaking is playful, technically demanding, but delightfully wayward in where it leads.

This year, in his latest exhibition, “New Growth, Spring” at the Serena Morton Gallery, in London, there is certainly no shortage of trees and spring regrowth, and an excellent online catalogue by Larissa Nowicki.

“It may appear an odd time”, Cazalet says, “to meditate on new growth and the optimism of nature regeneration but it has been an abiding theme of mine and one I want to share.”

In the beautifully laid-out gallery, there are 20 woodcut prints on display. Twelve are called Treeform, monoprints enhanced with oil pastel, each of a tree, all 122 x 90 cm made more than 20 years ago, together with eight recently created, New Growth, Spring, multi-coloured designs, 113 x 45 cm, of new growth in nature, using chine collé. They are all numbered: there are no titles.

The Treeform series is quite intriguing, in as much as, while the same woodcut is printed in one colour, Cazalet applies oil pastel (softer and easier to use than crayon) to give a completely different shape and texture to each. Treeform 3 is a study of different shades of brown of the tree growing in its field, with its many small offspring sprouting up round the edge. It is stark, autumnal, and striking. Treeform 2 is completely red, and looks like a road map in which the large branches resemble main roads passing through the canopy of small branches, twigs, and leaves, as if small villages and towns. Treeform 7 is a golden brown impression of a tree with the sun setting behind it giving the foliage a hazy appearance, while Treeform 19 has a grass-green background and light brown crown.

Cazalet’s many visits and placements abroad, especially to the Far East, have introduced him to many new ways of enhancing his work. Chine collé comes originally from China and Japan, and is a process of using extremely fine paper or silk shapes over the base paper — in effect, a type of collage.

The artist uses this method in his New Growth, Spring works. These contrast with the Treeform series, as quite complicated if distinct designs. While they are going to mean something different to every viewer, they are clearly about regeneration. One can discern in one print, dried white dead vegetation on the brown earth, sprouting green leaves, yellow and white eggs, and creepy-crawlies such as caterpillars and centipedes. In other prints, muted pink and purple and the occasional dark colour appears; for regrowth happens in all life, not only in flora.

I find the contrast between these two groups of woodcut prints interesting, sad, and philosophical. The older Cazalet seems to be looking back at a time of youthful joy and simplicity, and now, after so much suffering in the world, despite signs of hopeful regeneration, he is only too aware that our lives are always subject to both the dark and light aspect of the power of nature.

“Mark Cazalet: New Growth, Spring: An Exhibition of Woodcut Monoprints” is at Serena Morton, 343 Ladbroke Grove, London W10, until 28 May. serenamorton.com

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