Carol Summers is renowned for his vivid colors and the revolutionary woodblock techniques he introduced in the 1960â€™s. In the course of printing he frequently uses solvents to transform the pigments into dyes which then tend to penetrate the paper and result in a watercolor effect. This allows for rich colors and soft blurred edges. For his subject matter, Summers draws from a variety of countries and cultures, both exotic and local. Cairoâ€™s Flag and Tuolomne Sunset, for example, reflect his extensive travels abroad and around his home state of California. His most recent print, The Torture Presidentâ€™s Legacy, shows that Summers does not shy away from political statements. Although his work is traditionally known for its big, bold, beautiful forms and joyous colors. These saturated colors and exuberant shapes can also be effective in expressing contemporary issues.
Summersâ€™ work has been widely collected for decades and is held in the following museum collections: The Art Institute of Chicago; Biblioteque National, Paris; Brooklyn Museum of Fine Arts, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington; Los Angeles County Museum; Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The National Museum of Art, Washington; and the Seattle Art Museum.
Carol Summers was born in Kingston, New York on December 26, 1925. His parents were both artists. His father was a painter who worked as a medical illustrator during the Great Depression. His mother was a watercolor artist. She was very knowledgeable about papers and how they would hold the paint. She collected various papers that Summers would later use in his paintings and prints (The Annex Galleries 1996).
Summers served in World War II as a navigator bombardier with the Marines (Peggity' 2006). After the War he worked as a carpenter and cabinetmaker (Peggity' 2006). He studied painting (with Steven Hirsh) and printmaking (with Louis Shanker) at Bard College and the Art Students League of New York from 1948 to1951 (The Annex Galleries 1996). He concentrated on painting until 1950 when printmaking became his specialty (RoGallery 2012). The Italian government issued Summers a grant in 1954 that allowed him to study there for a year (The Annex Galleries 1996). He produced small black and white architectural woodcuts in editions of eight to twenty five (The Annex Galleries 1996).
With artist Leonard Baskin, Summers pioneered the â€œmonumentalâ€ woodcut. The term was used in the 1960â€™s to describe woodcuts that were far larger then anything that had been produced before (The Annex Galleries 1996).
Summers developed a unique method for making prints. The Summers Technique is taught in universities and written about in textbooks (Peggity' 2006). He creates his woodblocks by hand out of quarter inch pine. He makes the woodblock bigger then the Japanese or mulberry papers he intends to use. He clips the dry paper to the woodblock and applies the oil based ink directly onto the paper with rollers unlike the traditional technique of rolling the ink directly onto the woodblock. After he applies the ink he sprays it with mineral spirits. The fibers in the paper draw the thin ink away from the print giving the prints a soft glow. He refers to his technique as â€œrubbingâ€ (Peggity' 2006). This technique helps him avoid the mirror reversed image and he has more control over the amount of ink he uses on the paper (The Annex Galleries 1996). He says in his artistâ€™s statement â€œI think an artist is a kind of inventor searching for a way to body forth his dreams or fantasies, his visions or caprices. The notion that there is a right way to make a print strikes me as exactly backwards, since any method tends to dictate a specific resultâ€ (RoGallery 2012).
In 1972 Summers moved to Santa Cruz, California where he currently lives and works (Pratt 1999). Summers is a world traveler and is influenced by the colors and folk art of the places he has visited. He says that he sees humans as a tiny little family whose divisions arenâ€™t all that striking (Pratt 1999). He continues â€œI look at all of mankind as if weâ€™re one body. Sometimes we can only focus on the differences, but weâ€™re 99 percent the same. We are living in a time when there arenâ€™t too many secrets as far as the diversity of the worldâ€ (Pratt 1999). In 1979 at the age of 54 he was chosen by the United States Information Agency to spend a year teaching in India (Peggity' 2006). It had a great influence on his work and he continues to return there yearly to work (Peggity' 2006). He has also traveled to Mexico, Tibet, Nepal, China and Japan. While visiting Mexico with his wife they bought a hacienda they named Casa de Espiritus Allegres (the House of Happy Spirits). He moved his studio there for awhile with his wife Joan Ward Toth (Pratt 1999). He enjoys backpacking into the woods and mountains of the United States and Canada by himself or with other artists (Peggity' 2006). The works produced from these treks are among his most popular (Peggity' 2006).
Summers is considered one of only a handful of master printmakers alive today (RoGallery 2012). His prints are a response to the places he has travelled and the stories he has heard. His work is large in scale with bold saturated color. The prints reflect the natural world and semi-abstract shapes (Peggity' 2006). The natural wood grain of the pine blocks replicates water in many of his prints (Peggity' 2006). His work can be seen in museums around the world including the Museum of Modern Art, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, Bibliotheque Nationale and the Victoria and Albert Museum to name a few (RoGallery 2012). He has produced nearly 250 color woodcuts with editions ranging from 10 to 100 (Peggity' 2006).
Annex Galleries, The. 1996. â€œCarol Summers Biography.â€ Accessed April 9, 2013.
Peggity'. 2006. â€œAll About Carol Summers Master American Printmaker.â€ Blogspot, March 6. http://carolsummers.blogspot.com/.
Pratt, Rob. 1999. â€œA Cut Above: Carol Summers Looks at Life With A Worldwide Perspective.â€ Metroactive. Accessed April 9, 2013. http://www. metroactive.com/papers/cruz/08.19.99/woodcutting-9933.html.
RoGallery. 2012. â€œCarol Summers â€“ Biography.â€ Accessed April 11, 2013.