Thursday, February 21, 2008

#4 of Top Ten: "La Llorona"

“La Llorona” 2004
24 x 12” woodblock relief print
edition of 25

Mexican parents have been using the legend of “La Llorona” as a cautionary tale for rambling children for decades, maybe even longer. I remember being a kid and playing with my cousins long after dark out in the fields, ponds, and streams near my home. My parents, aunts and uncles would warn us “don’t stay out too late in the dark or La Llorona will take you”. If you are not familiar with the story I refer you to a pretty good account at Wikipedia ( As with any good legend, the variations are endless.

This print started as a sketch to compliment my print, “Anhelo”. In “Anhelo” a male figure plunges into the water holding an undisclosed object (see 1/10&11/08 blog entries). I knew I wanted a female figure in this work so that the two would eventually bookend a third central piece to create a triptych. Up to this point the whole triptych hasn’t materialized. The associations of the submerged female figure to the Llorona legend were obvious from the start so I decided to let them be.

By October 2003 I hadn’t yet gotten around to realizing the sketch into a finished work when I got a call from Rene Yañez, curator at SomArts ( Rene was asking if I had anything for their annual Dia de los Muertos exhibition. The theme that year was “La Llorona”. I told him I didn’t have any installations but I did have a print that he might like. He asked me to send it over…that’s when I got down to actually cutting the block and printing one up!

I dug out my sketches once more and decided that the format would have to be tall and thin to play up the depth of the water. I searched around and found a scrap of birch plywood that had an amazing wood grain on one end. The natural wood grain suggested a beautiful water ripple effect so I readjusted my sketch to work this into the new composition and drew the image straight onto the wood.

The deadline was looming close so I had to work fast. Rather than present a whole lot of time consuming detail I chose to let the flowing vegetation become a backdrop of dark flat shapes while the figure would emerge with dimension describing cross contour lines. I used rays of straight lines emanating from one vantage point to imply a light source while creating some contrast to all the organic curving shapes and lines. This method easily brought out all the wonderful wood grain texture in the block. Shifts in density of the wood grain makes the carving tool blade dig deeper in the soft areas and shallower in the hard areas. Even though the line remains straight the grain itself is responsible for the weight of line changing and accentuating the grain/water ripple effect.

Initially, the figure was going to be holding a baby but as my wife and I were expecting our second son at the time I just couldn’t bring myself to follow the legend literally. In addition, since the piece was supposed to be a companion piece to “Anhelo” I thought the ambiguousness of the “package” in the figure’s arms would keep with the intention of the other piece as well. I’d rather leave some mystery as to what the figures hold in both prints and let the viewer fill in the blanks rather than tie it to one thing. Everyone that comes to the print has his/her idea and they are all equally relevant.

The carving took a couple of days. I printed up one good print from the block, had it framed, packed it up, and sent it on its way to Rene in California where it was included in the exhibit “Bringing Light to the Darkness” at SomArts in 2003. The rest of the edition was printed later in 2004.

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