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Gordon Mortensen


Gordon Mortensen was born on April 27, 1938, in North Dakota.  He received his BFA degree with Honors in 1964 from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and he was enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Minnesota between 1969 and 1972.  Originally a portrait painter, Mortensen almost entirely abandoned that media to focus on reduction woodcutting where he achieved the creative freedom he desired.  During this transitional time, he taught briefly at the St. Paul Art Museum, the Rochester Art Center, and the Minnetonka Art Center in Wayzata, Minnesota.  


He is currently considered to be the premier reduction woodcut artist working in the U.S. today.  Reduction woodcut is now his singular technique because it adds a richness of texture that cannot be compared with any other painted surface.  Mortensen incorporates up to 64 colors in his woodcuts and executes as many as 45 press runs on handmade Japanese mulberry paper. The process is a slow and meticulous one, taking up to three months to create one edition.  A single block of wood, usually basswood, is used. The image is inked onto the wood; then areas are cut away as each pressing is done on paper. More area on the wood is cut away to add each color or shape.


Mortensen works from watercolor studies to understand the color dynamics of the scene he is woodcutting, and the final image is a mirror image of the watercolor painting.  “A print succeeds because of the relationship of colors,” states the artist, “but shapes and their relationships are also vitally important.” Mortensen skillfully interprets these elements using pattern, depth and contrast, combined with soft, opalescent hues to capture the essence and mood of the landscape.


His early images mostly represent the upper Midwest landscape and areas around where he lived in North Dakota. His color preferences in these early works are more muted compared to the brighter colors he currently favors in his current home in California.


The inventive textural effects, overall balance, and painterly quality of Mortensen’s woodcuts attest to his artistic vision and technical mastery and illustrate why he has become a legend in his field. The universal appeal of his lush landscapes has earned him many prestigious credits and accolades throughout the world. He has been interviewed by numerous publications, including American Artist and Horizons magazines about his work.

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