Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.
Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Richard Diebenkorn. Untitled #25,1981. Gouache and crayon on two sheets of heavyweight glossy white paper. Gift of The Pokross Art Collection, donated in accordance with the wishes of Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 by her children, Joan Pokross Curhan, class of 1959, William R. Pokross and David R. Pokross Jr. in loving memory of their parents, Muriel Kohn Pokross, class of 1934 and David R. Pokross. SC 2012:1-6
Richard Diebenkorn grew up in San Francisco and attended Stanford University and the California School of Fine Arts, where he studied with the artist David Park. Together, Diebenkorn and Park were two founders of the Bay Area Figurative School, choosing figuration over abstraction, the prevailing style of the time. Unlike Park, however, Diebenkorn embraced abstraction in the mid-60s, when he embarked on the series of works for which he is best known: more than 140 monumental paintings that he titled Ocean Parkafter the Santa Monica neighborhood where his studio was located. With their linear planes and luminous, broadly-brushed glazes, the Ocean Parkpaintings dispensed of figures but resembled landscapes.
Untitled #25comes from a series of drawings Diebenkorn executed during a hiatus in the Ocean Parkseries. Made in 1981 and 1982, they are based on playing card figures such as clubs and spades, shapes that had fascinated Diebenkorn since childhood.
Diebenkorn embarked on the playing card drawings after his mother, Dorothy Diebenkorn, became severely ill during the early 1980s. Finding it difficult to maintain the intense concentration required for the Ocean Parkpaintings, he turned to the new medium as a temporary diversion. Ultimately, the project occupied a steady year and a half of work. Untitled #25was one of fifty sheets exhibited at the Knoedler Gallery in New York City in 1982.
Like the Ocean Parkpaintings, #25gives the sense of something seem outside a window, perhaps an abstracted landscape. The loops of the club could be abstract forms, but the recognizable shape also ties this drawing back to the representational sphere. In doing so, it links Diebenkorn’s early figurative work with his later abstract work.
Untitled #25is currently on view in Shared Inspiration: The Muriel K. and David R. Pokross Collectionuntil July 29. If you cannot make it before then and would like to see this or other works from our vast collection, the Cunningham Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs is open on weekdays by appointment. Call 413-585-2764 or e-mail email@example.com schedule a visit.
Friday, July 20, 2012
Nevelson, Louise. American 1899—1988. The Great Wall,1970. Intaglio series, assemblage of wood grained lead foil relief elements bonded to heavy rag paper. Gift of Louise Nevelson. SC 1973:27-2. Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Known for her large-scale wall assemblages, or “environments,” made entirely of wood boxes and debris usually painted a uniform black, Louise Nevelson’s work relentlessly defies categorization of both style and media. She was interested in African and pre-Columbian art, as well as Cubism for its treatment of space and form, but refused to be affiliated with any modern movements or “-isms.” Similarly, her unconventional explorations of diverse media – sculpture, painting, printmaking, and even tapestry – reflect her singular, noncompliant artistic practice. Blurring these boundaries with the utmost confidence, Nevelson began making prints in the early 1950s which informed and reflected upon her sculptures. It was not until the 1970s, however, that she created a union of sculpture and printmaking.
The Great Wallperfectly exemplifies this cross-media relationship. It is a part of the “Walls” series of six lead intaglio relief prints in which Nevelson integrated wood relief sculptures directly into the printmaking process. Built specifically for the prints, the relief sculptures were used to emboss, or physically imprint, the surface of the lead foil. Nevelson then arranged the lead foil pieces on paper to create the finished print that we see above. In the “Walls” series, Nevelson truly heightens and embraces the sculptural possibilities of her prints.
Detail from The Great Wall.Photograph by Julie Warchol.
Nevelson’s The Great Wallhighlights her obsession with the shifting subtleties of light, shadow, and surface texture. Reminiscent of her sculpture environments, each “cell” within the towering composition contains a microcosm of embossed organic shapes which protrude, capturing the impression of the wood grain from the original reliefs. With time, the surface will continue to evolve as the lead oxidizes, creating a unique patina. These mutable qualities lend an enigmatic aesthetic to her work that corresponds to the mystical nature of the artist herself. In her insistence on expanding the limits of printmaking and sculpture, Louise Nevelson exposes the amorphous space created at their intersection: “My total conscious search in life has been for a new seeing, a new image, a new insight. This search not only includes the object, but the in-between place. The dawns and the dusks. The objective world, the heavenly spheres, the places between the land and sea…”
Thursday, July 12, 2012
My summer corridor show, Image and After-Image: Whistler and Photography,pairs the etchings of James Abbott McNeill Whistler with nineteenth century photographs to look at the relationship between the revival of etching and the birth of photography in the Victorian era. Whistler, a pioneer of the Etching Revival movement that sought to transform etching from a medium for technological reproduction to an art form of spontaneity and refinement, brought a vivid new imagination to the aesthetic possibilities of the graphic line. But unlike etchers, early photographers were dealing with an entirely new technology.
Picturesque street scenes were seen both in etchings and in photographs during the Victorian period. While photographers could document the way city streets actually looked, they were also cramped by an odd limitation. The long exposure times required by early cameras made it impossible to record objects in motion. Photographs of street scenes during this period are usually eerily devoid of people. They might have walked down the street while the picture was being taken, but they don’t appear in the image: they slip outside of the camera’s view and melt out of sight.
Occasionally, however, moving objects are half-recorded by the camera, creating whitish blurs in the photograph known as “ghosts.” In this photograph by Gustave Lancelot, the ghost of a horse is discernible at the front of the carriage on the right side of the street. (The horse’s front legs are clearly articulated but its torso and head are out of focus.) Two other ghosts that mar the surface of the image—one on the sidewalk beside the horse, beneath the streetlamp, and one on the right-hand sidewalk at the first street corner, between the three square boxes—indicate the presence of people moving through the photograph. By contrast, a single figure, perhaps strategically placed by the photographer, is clearly represented on the left sidewalk, sitting in a chair.
Lancelot’s photograph is paired in the exhibition with Whistler’s first ever street scene, called Street in Saverne.Here, Whistler brings a more deliberate ghostliness to his depiction of a city street, using dramatic light and dark contrasts, a tunnel-like composition and apparitional shadows to create an unsettling intensity. The single ghostly figure, like the ghosts in the Lancelot print, seems to be melting into shadow. Whistler’s choice of a nocturnal scene reflects a singular change in urban planning in the mid-nineteenth century: the introduction of street lamps to European cities. Street lamps transformed nocturnal views, both in terms of the lived experience of cities at night and the possibilities for artistic representation. By reinforcing the mystery of the street seen by lamplight, both ominous and beautiful, Whistler depicts the ghostly uncertainty of his increasingly modern, industrial world.