Hybridity: An Evolution of Hybrid Cultures in Art – Blue Roses By Debbie Davidsohn
Debbie Davidsohn, Blue Roses, Watercolor, sterling silver, acrylic, block print on Rives, 2021
The history of art, materials, and techniques proves the hybridity of our cultures today throughout the world. Throughout civilizations the evolution of artist techniques and development of artistic materials and supplies through each generation and movement becomes a prime example of hybridity within world culture.
I created an artwork using an antique Indian textile hand carved wooden block, watercolor, acrylic paint, and sterling silver, on BFK Rives printing paper, drawing from different cultures to create a hybrid work of art.
I had purchased two antique textile Indian wooden blocks 25 years ago. Their quality, intricacy, and uniqueness drew me to them. I used them for decorating artifacts in themselves sitting on top of my hand painted art cabinet within my home interior decorating themes. They appear to be maybe over 100 years old or more. I knew when I purchased them that they were once used for some type of hand printing and they did seem like they were from India, but no one told me this, nor is “India” or marking stamped on the artifacts themselves.
Hand Carved Antique Printing Block, Antique I purchased over 25 years ago.
In India’s history, hand textile printing was quite common and considered a valuable aesthetic craft and exclusive art form, always beautiful. Hand block printing on textiles still is part of India’s culture today, and highly prized. According to Saffron Marigold:
The tradition of woodblock printing has continued to exist in a parallel universe, stubbornly resistant to industrialization, and, to this day artisans practice woodblock printing without the aid of mechanization or computerization. It is this defiant indifference to mechanization that gives block printed fabrics the aura of a pure craft form. Their distinctly handmade essence, and the casual, breezy, bohemian chic aesthetic they exude have made them an enduring favorite with designers and textile connoisseurs worldwide.
Side View of my Hand Carved Antique Printing Block, (India)
Historically, it was during the Mughal Empire that India flourished within the textile hand block printing arts (1526-1857). England spent much of its treasury on Indian textiles at that time. Due to the decline of the Mughal Empire and the dawn on industrialization, the Brits sabotaged India’s textile industry with cheap mills and synthetic dies. Prior, India was the most exclusive place in the world to create the best textile-colored dyes (Saffron Marigold).
Part of the textile block printing art is the hand carving of the blocks themselves. This creates two arts in one. But first, the design is worked out on paper, so drawing skills are a must. Saffron Marigold claims that, “A block starts out as a planed slice of shesham wood. Craftsmen trace the design onto the wood, and chisel it to a depth of one third of an inch.” After the blocks are chiseled and shaped, they are placed in “large trays of mustard oil for a couple of days” which is “done to prevent warping” (Saffron Marigold).
I did not use fabric for my art and took it to another direction. I used BFK Rives Printing Paper which has deckled edges, a rich interesting texture, which is my favorite also for soft pastel paintings.
Debbie Davidsohn, (Detail) Blue Roses, Sterling Silver, Watercolor, Acrylics, Block Printing on Rives Paper, 2021
But hey, wait, there is more to the cultural significance of block printing and the history goes back farther in time to China. According to Jason Daley, a correspondent for the Smithsonian, “Wang Ji . . .. commissioned a block printer to create a 17-and-a-half-foot-long scroll of the sacred Buddhist text” (Smithsonianmag.com). The book is called The Diamond Sutra and said to be the first use of block printing worldwide. The Diamond Sutra is thought to have been printed on May 11, 868 A.D.
So now we have Chinese Block Printing evolve into Indian Textile Art then into Debbie Davidsohn’s mixed media on Rives paper. We haven’t gotten into the creation of paper here, Indian Ink, inks, acrylic paints, watercolor, and painting with sterling silver yet. Talk about hybridity; this is the epitome of cultural hybridity in its evolution: The Arts. Never mind war, hostility, economy, and religion. Thus far, what I have written about involved three world religions creating some form of art.
Let’s get into watercolor painting though filled with a rich interesting history that evolves entire civilization changes. Although Europe would possibly like to snatch the credit for watercolor painting as many websites point to, watercolor painting goes back to Paleolithic Era, about 15000 B.C.E. before humans had built cities. One can find watercolor paintings within caves and on stones. According to “Water Colors Through Time”, “materials used often to create these paintings were minerals from the earth, charcoal, dies all being mixed with water, creating water pigments. This material was a close relation with modern day water colors.”
When I conducted my research to find hybridity within our art materials and their evolution, I noticed there were many websites that start the watercolor movement with Europe. It may be hard to fathom that watercolor painting began with prehistoric women who of course sat in their caves knitting with grass fibers and decorating their nice cozy living spaces inspired from their natural environments. Of course, the information available will claim that early man painted on the walls of the caves, and notice the terminology, “early man”, never mentioning women what so ever as if all women had to do was squat to give birth, and cook bull chops at the fire place within their caves all day. Maybe women painted most or all of the Paleolithic cave paintings as a way to create interior design and décor while their grunting spouses ran around Paleolithic times hunting for fresh food. It could have been a woman who found the first minerals to paint with, while she was cooking and cleaning her stone-like dishes as she discovered the various colors of the Earth pigments; the hues dazzling; she didn’t want to waste it all and started painting on her cave house walls.
Either way, watercolor painting is historically more significant historically speaking, than oil painting in all actuality. Ancient Egyptians used watercolor pigments to paint on Papyrus. According to Laura Monroe, writer for Artmine, for the Agora Gallery, in Chelsea, New York:
In Asia, traditional Chinese painting with watercolors developed around 4,000 B.C.,
primarily as a decorative medium, and by the 1st century A.D., the art of painting
religious murals had taken hold. By the 4th century landscape watercolor painting
in Asia had established itself as an independent art form. (Monroe)
So now we have hybridity of Paleolithic women’s culture, Ancient Egyptian culture, and Asian culture. Although Europe may have a point there (pertaining to snatching all the credit for the creation of watercolor painting and remember that it is ritually men who put their names on women's works and finds in this respect), because some of the cave paintings were technically discovered in Europe, long before Europe was Europe; somehow England became the centerfold for the watercolor movement much later in the 18th and 19th centuries. In fact, the first watercolor artists were not considered human; they were called Neanderthals. We could discuss the hybrid evolutionary cultures of neanderthal females with humans too. What a mix over! But let’s go back to the very first known artists, according to historians before we get into the more modern day named artists of Europe.
Dean Snow, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, claimed that a “proportion of them. . . “, referring to the cave paintings, “including those around the spotted horses in Pech Merle, were of female hands” (Wiki). One of these, in which he is probably referring to, is Cueva de las Manos, discovered in Perito Moreno, Argentina (Wiki). This cave painting reveals many left hands stenciled, the artist probably using her right hand to paint with, while stenciling over her own left hand, using watercolor pigments. Scientists claim that the hands in this ancient cave painting belong to a woman--NOT A MALE! Archeologists concur, those who study ancient anatomy, such as bones. So, move over Banksy and stencil graffiti artists around the world: it WAS A WOMAN who invented the art of
stenciling using her own left hand as a stencil, using her own creation of watercolor hues.
Cueva de las Manos, Perito Moreno, Argentina
Let’s face reality: Watercolor paintings or cave paintings were discovered allover the world, including India; East and Southeast Asia; Southern Africa; Australia; in the Philippines before it was the Philippines; the Horn of Africa in Eritrea; Algeria in North Africa; South Africa; North America in Baja, California, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Louis Obispo; South America in Brazil; Southeast Asia in places, such as Indonesia, Burma, and Malaysia; and last, but not least, in Europe, including France, Russia, Romania, Spain, England, and Finland. Many of these paintings were found in France though. No wonder that France may be considered an iconic capitol of an important art movement; some of the first artists that we know of used to use their own cave walls as their canvas. But France WAS NOT France back then!
Notice how this watercolor cave painting art movement moved around the world though. Neanderthal humans did not have internet, telephones, radio communications and walkie talkies; so how did so many widespread areas get touched by the watercolor movement? Think about women busily creating the first cave museums and interior design schemes, mixing their palette with Earth minerals, such as charcoal from their cooking stoves and white gypsum, a rock salt, and you know it just had to be a female who started painting with the salt she used to make the food for the family nice and tasty. Archaeologists claim that cave paintings are sometimes made with animal fat, plant juice, and water. What does this tell you though? The discovery was made by women cooking and making juice in the early morning for their cave men and children.
Now, to get back to the Western art world. England became renown for its push for perfection in watercolor painting. Men became popular: Paul Sandby, J.M.W. Turner, and Thomas Girtin took the lead in the 18th – 19th century; in the 19th and 20th centuries in America, John James Audubon and Winslow Homer joined the movement (Munroe). That’s not all: My mom, Harriet Davidsohn had been painting with watercolor in the 20th – 21st century until she passed on in 2020.
So now you have not only the evolutionary transition of Neanderthals into human beings creating hybrid artworks using techniques and materials discovered first by Neanderthal WOMEN; but you have a more modern block printing technique, which was used to create the world’s first printed book in China! Now, how is that for hybridity?
Pondering a hybrid work of art, I remembered my 23-karat gold and sterling silver tablets I purchased years ago, but never used. The gold and silver are suspended in gum arabic and can be used like watercolor. According to Jerry’s Artarama, “Unlike virtually all other products, this one is the actual article used for over 1,000 years for illuminating scrollwork and now used to accentuate design work and watercolor paintings. In former times, the gold was actually filled in seashells.” The Fitzwilliam Museum relays that, “shell silver was applied more sparingly” than shell gold and “to depict metal objects, armour, and heraldry” (Fitzwilliam).
Throughout history, silver paint was used by artists to paint portions illuminated manuscripts and by William Blake. Wiki relays that Silver illuminated manuscripts spans Western, Mesoamerican, and Far Eastern cultures and the earliest illuminated manuscripts known “are from the period 400 to 600, produced in the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the Eastern Roman Empire” (Wiki).
My sterling silver came in a small acrylic plastic casing which has the word, “Muschelsilber” printed on the bottom, which in German, means shell silver. Although my artwork is not an illuminated religious manuscript, the technique I used and the materials originated from illuminated manuscript artists.
I used Lucas Aquarelle watercolor paints in the pans to colorize my block print. I used acrylic paint, a glass palette, and brayer to for my Indian textile printing process.
Hybridity may surface as the combination of ethnicities, cultures, religions, and nationalities. Some may refer to hybridity as lacking purity, but this is far from the truth. Art as we know it today, is the result of many generations and eras of hybrid evolution of art materials and techniques. Blue Roses is inspired by my mom, Harriet, for her favorite color was blue.
Blue Roses may seem like an uncomplicated piece of art, but a lot went into this work. I wanted a loose sort of watercolor feeling, freer style, and did not want the entire print colored in. The loose grainy feel of the block print in itself is a process. One can block print with cushioning under the paper to fill in the lines more too. I plan to try different processes out over time.
Debbie Davidsohn (Detail) Blue Roses, Acrylic, Sterling Silver, Watercolor, Block Printing on Rives Paper, 2021
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