Hardly has there ever been a time when the world just seemed to make sense. Where the dawn would welcome each day with such vigor that possibilities were limitless in this trivial game we call life. Roll the dice, take a chance, risk it all on black. Fate, as it were, is, and has always been, in complete control of this game, and I, my friends, have never been on her good side…
But then there come those moments where your email begins to quiver with bustling news of a certain magazine coming back from the “Dead” to challenge the drab landscape of redundant media, and you’re asked to take part. To jump on the bandwagon of misfits too radical to be consumed with the traditional constructs of sentence slinging, also known as writing. There I was, laying in bed next to my two dogs, wearing sweat pants and a shirt encrusted with squash stains, balancing a fine mug of orange pekoe on my chest, when I strapped back into the writers chair.
This is also the moment I first met artist Loren Kantor; former screenwriter turned woodcut print artist based out of Hollywood, California. Loren and I had started an impromptu chat about his art. Casual conversation between two people who would rather be immersed in their creative mindset than toiling away in a pin-stripe suit drowning down on Wall Street, choosing business over pleasure.
“And best of all, David Lynch has the David Lynch Woodcut hanging in his studio,” he quipped.
Mind. Blown. I imagine this is the sensation Special Agent Dale Cooper had when he first tasted cherry pie down at the Double R Diner: inexplicable amazement. Suddenly my stain littered pajamas seemed too disgraceful to be worn chatting with an artist who has the master director of Twin Peaks as a fan.
Let’s rewind back to the 1980’s when the German Expressionist’s were making a pit stop at the LA County Museum; Kathe Kollwitz, George Grosz, and Karl Schmidt-Rotluff up on pristine walls. Woodcut prints of bold, stark simplicity staring straight through the eyes young Loren, tempting a taste of an art form too intoxicating to wash away.
“The images were haunting and vivid and I couldn’t get them out of my head. Years later I encountered the American woodcut masters Lynd Ward and Paul Landacre. Their work was much more complex but it retained the primal immediacy inherent in woodcuts.”
Fast forward to 2008 when Loren received his first woodcutting set from his wife – a painter – for his birthday. Online tutorials, many hours of trial and error, and a few hacked up fingers helped cultivate this self-taught artist’s unique style. His work has this allure of Hollywood film nostalgia, as if each is a still from a classic with the weight of a story hidden beneath primal cuts. His line-work resembles primitive styling you’d expect to see scratched on the cave walls throughout the history of time. Mystery overlapped with cautious control of his medium sided with the drive to influence the viewer to engage with the tale, the story behind the art makes Loren
such a fascinating creature.
“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 or Bono. Sometimes I’m conflicted. 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.”
His process begins in a familiar method, tracking down old photographs or stills to use as a reference point, which tumbles into pencil sketches, then escalates to a transfer onto his chosen wood canvas or linoleum block. Sometimes with music, sometimes in silence, sometimes nature creeps in through the form of an owl’s hooting that takes Loren in a new creative direction. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern to his method, just freedom to let the flow take hold, direction without a map or destination. Perhaps this is one of the reasons his art resonates such a distinct curiosity. Mind you, his bevy of unconventional tools such as dental implements, awls, and sewing needles, certainly add a dash of exoticness to his line work.
“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 look kind of like an air-hockey paddle). The entire process takes 50-60 hours from the initial sketch to the completed print.”
As our conversation continued over the course of two days, I came to appreciate just how admirable life as a visual artist in the hub of Hollywood truly is. Where every twist and turn down any road or avenue will often ignite conversations between the hybrid waiter / actor / model / maid hoping to be found by a big-time producer searching for the next “big thing”; life is nothing but business in the hills of La-La-Land. How easily one’s creative integrity or confidence could evaporate under the strain of rejections, in a city with as much lust for fame than holistic peace or serenity can be found . Yet, where many have fizzled in the pressure cooker of this desperate society, Loren has been able to connect inner solitude through his art.
“Woodcutting is my personal yoga. It’s integral that I relax and focus on each individual gouge. 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. In these days when everything is so hectic, it’s nice to have an activity that forces me to slow down and breathe.”
Fate always shows up when she decides that life is just too mundane, needs a shake-up, or that us humans really are becoming somewhat of a repetitive bore. For Loren, his ambitious drive to ditch the screenplay career to follow his inspiration seeded in the 1980’s, equipped with a kit from his loving wife in 2008, has certainly amassed some impressive milestones. Exhibitions at galleries, theaters, pop-up exhibits, restaurants, cafes, bookstores, and prints in the personal collections of some of Hollywood’s elite make eyebrows raise in a silent applause; this artist is something to stand and take notice of.
“Currently, the movie-based woodcuts are on display at the Arena Cinema in Hollywood, the Harris Cinema Theater in Pittsburgh and Cinema Salem in Massachusetts. I have individual woodcut prints at a number of museums (Beat Generation Museum, Brooklyn Sports Museum, Edgar Allan Poe Museum and the Berlin Zeppelin Museum). The Writer’s Guild of America framed the Billy Wilder Woodcut Print in their Billy Wilder Reading Room.”
My conversation with Loren has been short, and incredibly enlightening. I hope to be able to stay connected with him through the years catching up on wherever his travels may take him.And while I learned an interesting perspective on what life as an artist in the hubbub of Hollywood is like, I feel as though what I walk away with is the understanding that when fate reminds you of a passion, or inspiration from your past, you shouldn’t hang-up on her. Take the call. Let fate remind you that how you’re living right now might not be in your best interest, and take the walk on the wild side being offered. Who knows where she will take you…