By Ewa Budka | Through months of experimenting with wood while researching a lithographic process known as Mokulito, artist Ewa Budka began to find similarities between the material and the human body.
Image: Ewa Budka taking a break over her Skins during a printmaking workshop at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design in 2013. Photograph by Karl Reeves.
The parallel between wood and the human body is central to my project entitled The Skin I Have Been Living In (2012–present). It consists of two interconnected elements: The Body, a piece of wood as an object and a printmaking matrix, and The Skins, impressions of The Body on paper and in latex. Printmaking as a process and a way of thinking is the foundation of the project. I employ Mokulito, a lithographic printing process originated in Japan that I adapted to my liking after conducting extensive research. In Mokulito, wood is used in lieu of stone as a matrix, which makes the lithographic process not only more accessible to artists, but also offers them additional opportunities to expand the traditional medium’s application.
A sheet of plywood, a playable natural material perfectly fit for the practice of Mokulito, becomes a symbol for the human body in my project because like our bodies, it is able to record and store the effects of external forces—touches, scratches, marks. Plywood also supports my free, gestural drawing and carving, and allows me to print from its surface, pour on latex, peel, draw more and carve again. I push the wood’s capacity to absorb, transform and subsequently bounce back my ideas and emotions through impressions that the surface leaves on paper and latex. The wood (The Body) thus becomes the matrix for the creation of The Skin.
Image: The Body (Triptych), 2014, maple wood, each 44 x 32 inches (111.8 x 81.3 cm), photograph by Konrad Cwik.
Image: The Skin I Have Been Living In (Triptych), 2014, monotype, lithograph from wood on Canson paper, each 44 x 32 inches (111.8 x 81.3 cm), unique, photograph by Konrad Cwik.
The second element of the project, The Skin, translates the memories and emotions embedded in the wood as I print the multilayered composition on translucent Japanese paper and in latex. The human skin functions as our external memory with its ability to capture the discourse between existence and the soul. The impressions left by The Body on paper and in latex symbolize internal discussions that I engage in while working with the plywood. Removing paper from the wooden matrix is like peeling off a layer of a secret conversation, to unveil and share my thoughts with the viewers. The feeling of disclosure is even stronger with The Skin in latex. The process of preparing the latex impressions is a performance—a moment when two different media, tightly connected as a whole, are abruptly pulled apart. The latex Skin bears a lifelike resemblance to real human skin, with its flexibility, color and ability to hold imprints of physical traces.
Mokulito is a relatively easy practice that is accessible and economical. Like traditional lithography, Mokulito works on the principle that water and oil do not mix. One simply replaces the stone matrix with plywood and works with a greasy substance (lithographic crayons, tusche, Sharpie Oil-Based Paint Markers) to create the image. The wood is then etched with gum arabic, which is later washed out. The highly absorbing surface of the wood, however, is unforgiving. As there is no protective coat applied to it, the wood records every mark that is made on its surface, every accidental touch. The marks cannot be removed unless they are carved out. In addition, every piece of wood is different. One must respect what it offers, and explore what is hidden between the grains.
Years back in Poland, my father Jozef Budka, a professor of lithography at the Academy of Fine Arts in Katowice, and I stumbled upon a print labeled as “lithography on wood.” As a professor of traditional stone lithography, my father relentlessly searched for the origins of what he found was called Mokulito. He was intrigued by the idea of replacing the expensive and nearly extinct stone matrix for a wooden plate. Our Mokulito journey began after we received instructions from Japan to “take wood, draw on it and print from it.” We researched the use of wood, inks and tools to make the process a reality. Mokulito offers me the freedom of making marks, both in drawing and carving, not to mention the gratification of immediate results. The technique lends itself to monotype. Another benefit of Mokulito is that I can experiment with color while combining lithography with woodcut.
I treat my artwork as a living body—a pulsing assembly of different materials and feelings. The Skin I Have Been Living In gives me the opportunity to visually communicate the emotions and discoveries of my own existence through a multilayered printmaking process that is open to experimentation.
Artist Ewa Budka washing off gum arabic from a wooden matrix during her residency at the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design (MAD) in 2013. Photograph by Karl Reeves.
Installation view of Ewa Budka's exhibition The Skin I Have Been Living in at Hoffman LaChance Contemporary, St. Louis, 2014. Photograph by Dave Johnson.
The project Ewa Budka: The Skin I Have Been Living In appears in the print edition of Celebrating Print, Vol.2 No. 1, published in April 2016.
EWA BUDKA (b. 1987, Poland) is a visual artist, printmaker and graphic designer. She graduated from the Department of Graphic Arts and Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (2013). Her work has been shown in solo and group exhibitions in Poland, France, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan. In 2012, she received an art scholarship invitation from the Milwaukee Institute of Art & Design to expand her research of Mokulito, a lithographic process. Budka was an artist in residence at the Manhattan Graphics Center in New York, Paul Artspace in St. Louis and East London Printmakers in London, U.K. Budka teaches Mokulito workshops. She lives and works in New York.