Looking back at the various positions I’ve held through the years—bagboy, concessionist, usher, retail, mailroom—I’m able to recall very specific details from each workspace, idiosyncrasies which I became accustomed to during my time at that job. As if it were only yesterday I remember the cranny between the arcade machine and the wall where I kept my broom and dust pan while waiting for the next theater to clean, the discarded display case inside the entrance of the stock room, and the busted USPS tub under the stamp machine in which I kept our spare ink cartridges. In these works environments such quirks naturally become part of your routine, and even if the space wasn't designed to accommodate your particular business function, you learn to make do with it.
Charles Frederic Ulrich’s The Village Print Shop, Haarlem, Holland is a vivid portrait of one such workplace. By simply observing how the cabinets, equipment and whatnot are situated throughout, it really feels like these workers have occupied and performed their duties in this space. The room might best be described economical, if not also tidy and maintained, though one should note the table which host our worker’s beverages and personals effects amidst other items more specific to their job, such the blocks of type. And then we have those peculiarities which seem too real to have not been taken from direct observation, such like the tilted stove with its accompanying chimney pipe that meanders the ceiling until exiting out the window. Excellent.
Citing our eye-level vantage point, The Village Print Shop has the same authenticity I would associate with a photo snapshot. I expressed a similar sentiment in my Art for the Month of June entry for Gerard ter Borch’s A Concert, although our piece here feels much more urban and gritty.
As for the workers, I would regard the young man drinking coffee in the foreground as our companion for The Village Print Shop. Even if he appears oblivious to us while occupied with his beverage, his placement seems to command our attention, and there's something intriguing about his youthful presence in such old, weathered space that gives us a sense of time, as if the responsibility of this workplace will eventually be passed down to him by the former generation. Whatever the case, this young man is at least more identifiable than the two men at the platen printing press in the background. As you’ll observe, one man has his face curiously obscured by a chimney pipe, and the other is looking down while setting the machine.
And how could I discuss this piece without mentioning its use of light? I love how the sunlight bursts through the open window to illuminate these otherwise dreary confines. One must note the reflections found in the water bottle on the table as well as in the lamp hanging from over the printing press, both which seem to indicate a second light source originating from a window which would be found off-canvas to the left. The light also gives a beautiful sheen to the wooden cabinets, especially the area found below the open window. And finally we have the many glares found throughout the scene, my favorites being that which accents the ornament design on the black stove and the tiny highlight found on the ink pot.