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.
Thursday, July 11, 2013
“I’m full of thoughts (more or less). My work isn’t.
It’s not a demonstration of an idea either. It’s an actuality.”
– Fred Sandback
Minimalist artist Fred Sandback is known for his ephemeral sculptures made from acrylic yarn. The taut yarn strings – often stretching from floor to ceiling, ceiling to wall, or wall to floor – create delicate and playful forms that change the way a viewer sees, perceives, and moves about the space. Sandback’s yarn constructions are essentially drawings in space – free-floating lines which have jumped beyond the confines of paper.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Sandback translated his spatial ideas from three to two dimensions using the visual and technical capabilities unique to printmaking. Apparent iterations of his sculptures, Sandback’s prints present floating lines which interact with the whole sheet of paper similarly to how his yarn lines interact with the space of an entire room. This can be seen in Sandback’s 1983 lithograph For Matthias Ignaz(made in honor of his then-newborn son), in which the artist printed the blue-green negative space right to the paper’s edge, leaving only the subtle white lines unprinted and exposed. This print confuses and challenges our notions of two-dimensional foreground and background. Here, both elements are of equal importance: the “space” of the paper’s colored expanse and the lithographic line.
While the large scale of Sanback’s yarn sculptures subtly alter or interrupt the viewers’ space, the comparatively miniscule size (11 by 9 inches) of For Matthias Ignazcreates an incredibly intimate relationship between the work and the viewer. Drawn into the paper’s peculiar blue-green “space,” close looking reveals that the lithographic lines are not entirely crisp – in fact, their fuzzy character curiously alludes to the tactile quality of his three-dimensional yarn lines.
Detail of Sandback’s For Matthias Ignazshowing lithographic line.
Wednesday, July 3, 2013
Guest blogger Emma Casey is a Smith College student, class of 2015, majoring in Spanish. She is the 2013-2015 STRIDE Scholar in the Cunningham Center for Prints, Drawings, and Photographs.
This past spring, my advanced printmaking class took a field trip to Peter Pettengill’s professional intaglio workshop and publisher, Wingate Studio in southwestern New Hampshire (pictured above). Pettengill, Wingate’s founder and master printmaker, was trained at Crown Point Press in San Francisco from 1979 through 1985, at which point he opened Wingate. He gave us a tour of his studio and showed us works by various artists made prints at Wingate over the past few years.
The work of contemporary American artist Walton Ford drew my attention. Ford works in the style of 19th century naturalist artists, namely ornithologist John James Audubon, to create naturalistic illustrations, paintings, and prints of avifauna (birds). From afar, Ford’s works appear strictly observational, but upon closer scrutiny, many levels of narrative and socio-historical critique become evident. Each avifauna subject is depicted life-sized, and is often accompanied by text. Ford’s backgrounds have a sketchy, less defined quality, and stain-like splotches appear on the borders in a faux antique style.
The ambition of his prints is remarkable. The hours involved in etching six tightly-registered copper intaglio plates for each print shows in the precision and skill of his works. Ford’s beautifully executed prints and watercolors critique human actions and history. Drawing from colonialism, industrialization and environmentalism, Ford questions the effects of these phenomena on the animal world through both serious and joking imagery.
Ford’s Condemned,a print in the SCMA collection, depicts an extinct Carolina Parakeet. By the 1880s, the birds’ numbers suffered at the hands of farmers who considered them an agricultural pest. Flocks plagued orchards, destroying fruit in search of seeds. The American Ornithologists Union declared the Parakeet extinct in 1939. Ford has memorialized the small bird, including its scientific name. Condemnedincorporates a quote from the American serial killer Carl Panzram (1891-1930), who wrote to capital punishment protesters while on death row in 1929, “I wish that you all had one neck and that I had my hands on it.” Ford appropriates this quote, which is prominently scrawled above the Carolina Parakeet. It is ambiguous whether these words are the voice of a farmer or one of the birds; as each is ruining the other’s life, but with different consequences of varying severity.
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Since the 1960s, Vija Celmins has been depicting the sprawling surfaces of the ocean, moon, desert floor, and night sky in remarkable detail. Her earliest works include a series of seemingly identical ocean surface images, including her 1970 lithograph Untitled [Waves]. This work is also one of Celmins’ earliest attempts at printmaking and has been called “one of the finest and scarcest American prints of the 1970s.”
In Untitled [Waves],Celmins renders the water with no visible depth, horizon lines, or other perspectival elements. While this is not a typical picturesque image of the ocean, the careful rendering is utterly captivating. Its mesmerizing hyperrealism draws the viewer into this shallow space and allows the eye to wander indefinitely. Despite Celmins’ obsessive repetition of the same ocean surface image in many different works from this period, she attests that for her water has no personal or symbolic significance: “It really went into a kind of rigorous building, and letting the material be the material. Letting the image be more and more like an armature. In some of these, the image is almost nothing.”
By Celmins’ own assertion, her work is first and foremost an exploration of the process of creating images and the physical properties of the medium with which she is working. In her ocean series, the works seem almost identical at first glance but are actually subtly individualized. For each work, Celmins uses just one drawing implement for the whole image; a soft 3B pencil, a hard 8H pencil, or a lithographic crayon (as in Untitled [Waves]) create different tonal qualities and marks in each of her works.
Detail of Untitled [Waves].
Drawing from a photograph of an ocean surface rather than by direct observation, Celmins distances herself from her original object of study. Working exclusively from her own photographs, an amorphous substance like water is distilled into sculptural forms of life and shadow, both allowing her to focus on the tonal possibilities of the medium and rendering the works devoid of symbolism, narrative, and specific context. By negating specificity in her images, Celmins explores the physical process of making a drawing or print. Celmins states: “I don’t think of the ‘ocean image’ as an image or something I’m interested in. I think of it as a way of identifying a piece of work that I can always return to… to work on…to perfect… to make ‘real’…” She uses water not as a subject in its own right but merely as a means of exploring the physical creative process – as a form to describe from a cool, unaffected distance.