Printmaker Matt Brown in his studio in Lyme, New Hampshire.
Photo Credit : Matt Kalinowski
Matt Brown’s New England landscape prints are alternately intimate and sweeping, vibrant and softly moody. But all capture moments of beauty witnessed with affectionate eyes. The settings are familiar, but the method is Japanese, a centuries-old woodblock technique called moku hanga, in which images are built layer upon layer, one hand-carved block per color. Brown mixes his colors from water, rice paste, and pigment and presses the paper to the block with a flat handheld tool called a baren. A self-taught printmaker, he discovered moku hanga at an exhibit of Japanese prints at the Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College and has been making prints since 1993.
Made in New Hampshire
The son of a Dartmouth history professor, Brown moved to New Hampshire at the age of 2. He graduated as an art major from Harvard, but “came right back up here” after graduation. “I have so many personal connections to the area, and it’s a beautiful place,” he says. “I think life is richer when you steer toward connections and coincidences.” After some time in the building trades, he turned to art.
Brown’s first images depicted the life of his young family, but landscape soon supplanted this imagery. “The seasons and topography of northern New England are so complex,” he says, “with great variety: rocky woods, river bottoms, fields, the coast. Lately I’ve been looking a lot at water—coastal Maine, Lake Winnipesaukee. Water is an endless source of challenge.” He’s also contemplating some well-known New England mountains: Monadnock, Kearsarge. “When I make a print, I’m looking for stories, shapes, and colors that line up and affect each other,” he says. “I like revisiting old themes.”
Brown lives in an 1871 house just up the road from his 1814 childhood home in Lyme. His studio isn’t far away. “I have about a 200-foot commute,” he says. His property includes the house, a barn, and a workshop he built in 1987. (“You wouldn’t know it’s not an older building,” he says of the shop, which resembles a schoolhouse and where he sometimes teaches classes.) The main floor is a woodshop; he makes prints on the light-filled top floor, with views of the surrounding maple trees. “It’s nice to be working on issues of picture making with so much of the natural world right outside the window,” he says.
“Early morning is my most creative time,” Brown explains. He does most of his drawing and painting when he’s on site in Lyme. Later in the day he works on printing or on framing and shipping. Other days he’s out exploring New England, taking inspiration from nature. For a new set of Mount Monadnock images, he climbed the peak once at sunset and again the next day at sunrise. “I brought simple colors with me and came home with a combination of sketches and photos,” he says. “Then the real drawing happened at home on my easel.”
Matt Brown Woodblock Prints. 23 Washburn Hill Road, Lyme, NH. 603-795-4619; hangaprints.comThis article first appeared in the March/April 2015 issue of Yankee Magazine.