A marvelous small gallery in Paris specializing in works on paper (always a fast way to my heart) has a marvelous exhibition of up American mid century prints. They had a fabulous selection. I’m a huge fan of Jim Dine, and I loved the pair of enormous etchings (enormous for etchings, anyway — there were plenty of even larger prints in the show), both from the same plate, with a number of extra brushes added in between printings. I love the way you simply draw into a plate and can change it so radically like that. For the prints I do, once you cut something away, it’s just gone. This is like magic to me. The other thing I totally loved about the Dine pieces is that he had two also enormous prints of his bathrobe that he titled self portraits. I have a profound relationship with my own favorite bathrobes (both winter and summer), and this was genius to me.
My 20th century art knowledge is considerably less than what I know about various other, earlier periods of art history, so I was unacquainted with Rauschenberg’s “Stoned Moon” series, done in the 60’s and based on the Apollo missions. I was blown away and will have to do more research into them. Rauschenberg, Dine, and Jasper Johns were all painters who got into printmaking by collaborating with print shops that could offer their expertise and large equipment and assistants to help these artists. I felt the same relief on learning that tibit that I felt when I learned that those exquisite floating world Japanese printmakers largely worked in watercolor and then had professionals to both carve and print for them. I feel like my work is clunky next to some of the professional printmakers out there, but doing it all by hand myself is satisfying. It may not be as perfect, but it is fully mine.
I saw other, more contemporary printmakers that I would like to learn more about, including Al Taylor, whose “Hanging Puddles” charmed me. I did a small study of it, and I also did one of Wayne Thiebaud’s exquisite sugared aquatint “Candied Apples.” The sugar technique adds a gorgeous texture in person. I’ve loved Thiebaud since college, and it was fun to see a couple of his prints in person.
These were all I managed to sketch on my first visit, but I think I may well have to go and see this show a second time before leaving Paris. I walked home feeling inspired to make more art, which is always the sign of an excellent show for me.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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