Kent Ambler’s woodcut prints evoke the elegant simplicity of 1930s folk art, but the intricate use of line, the layering of color and texture, and some of his subject matter, gives his work a modern feeling. Inspired by his home and surroundings in upstate South Carolina, Ambler spends his days painting and making woodcut prints in his home studio on Paris Mountain.
Q: Where are you from originally?
A: I grew up in Indiana, the northwest part, about 30 miles from Chicago.
Q: What drew you to South Carolina?
A: I had been living in New Mexico for about six years. I was looking for something different than the southwest. My work didn't really fit in out there. So I got out a map and started "x'ing" out all the places I didn't want to live. No cold weather states, no southwestern states, not Florida. That pretty much left a swath from northern Georgia up to Asheville. Once I saw Greenville I knew it was the right place for me. It feels like I have always belonged here.
Q: When were you introduced to printmaking and woodcuts? What do you think it is about the process that made that medium “stick?” What is it that’s appealing to you or speaks to you?
A: I took my first printmaking class at Ball State University (Muncie, Ind. – David Letterman went there). We began the class with woodcuts. Everyone thought I had made woodcuts before, but I hadn't. It just sort of came naturally to me. I like the surprise element of woodcuts. You can never really be sure how it is going to look until you start printing the blocks. I also like the sort of crude roughness of the medium; the marks created from the blocks are very distinctive.
Q: What’s your process like – from idea to execution?
A: I start with a sketch, which I then redraw on a woodblock. Then I sort of intuitively carve the block, most times straying from my original drawing. I then print it with black ink and study the print to decide if I want to make color blocks. If so, I carve a block for each color needed. I then mix up all my inks and print an edition of 20 to 30.
Q: When you look at your body of work so far, what ideas, themes or motifs do you find yourself returning to?
A: Dogs and birds. I make a lot of images of dogs and birds. But overall it is imagery from my everyday life: my yard, trees, pets, friends, landscapes, cityscapes, etc. I have always taken an approach similar to the advice frequently given to writers – write about what you know.
Q: Who are some other artists who inspire you?
A: Honestly I like a wide variety of art, so it is hard to come up with individual names. I like real folk art, wood fired pottery, German expressionist woodcuts, thickly painted paintings (abstract and representational), giant metal mobiles, crazy quilts, and anything mid-century modern.
Q: You participated in Artisphere again this year – how many times have you been a part of the festival? What would you say is special about Artisphere?
A: This is my fourth year. Artisphere is a very well put together festival. They pick great artists and it is a nice size show as far as the number of artists (I think only 120). Some shows have 300 to 450 artists, and I think that is a bit overwhelming for the patrons. But as with all festival shows it’s nice to actually interact with the people purchasing my work.
Q: How does your home environment inspire or influence your art?
A: My home life is my subject matter. I have three dogs, two cats, eight acres of woods on Paris Mountain. It all gets represented in my work.
Q: What are some of your favorite places to visit in the Upstate?
A: I'm a real homebody. My wife has a hard time getting me to go anywhere. But, I do like Lake Keowee (I used to live near the lake), hiking to any of the numerous waterfalls, going to antique stores and junk stores, and downtown Greenville of course.