There have been some awesome printmaking exhibits around recently. Brooks in Memphis put out their full complement of Durer's Small Passion, which is detailed and delightful. They can only show it every so often since it is fragile and on paper. I think the equation is something like "for every three months it's on show, it has to rest three years" or something like that. I didn't get over as often as I had optimistically planned to, but I did make it several times and spent some quality time sketching in the end. His use of line, like with all wood engraving, is what makes the print. But I was also fascinated by the details -- crucifixion tools lying at the foot of the cross, his signature not flat with the picture plane but in perspective (though he did get his D backwards a couple of times, which thrilled me to see --- even the top drawer printmakers can screw up the backwards bit sometimes!)
I loved the trees and the animals. Several pieces had small dogs in the foreground. I did notice it was the villains of the piece who mostly had dogs (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphus), but I wonder if they simply need the ministrations of dog angels more than the rest of the cast did. I also loved Jesus in his floppy gardening hat with a spade over his shoulder (but the stigmata noticeable). Most of all I loved the Adam and Eve in the garden underneath trees that have a through line down to E.H. Shepherd and with a badger (!) among the animals gathered around. I drew the tree carefully and the figures a bit less so, but I loved spending deep time looking at this one. Walking home, a tree reached out to me and called to be drawn, so I worked on using the character of Durer's lines to describe it (even if far less small and precise).
A second remarkable show is a set of Piranesi etchings at the University of Mississippi art museum. These are in their collection as well. None of the fantasy dungeons, sadly, but still some pretty delightful and whimsical details, like the figures up on the top of this dome with letters floating beside it. The letters, I realized later, corresponded to a list of building parts at the bottom of the print, but even so, their slightly wonky air felt whimsical as well. I also sketched a few decidedly whimsical (that was the word of the day) Mycenean pottery figures. I loved their stripes and happy expressions. I wish local museums would let us work in more than graphite, but the pencil did suit the engravings I was working from, and it felt good to do master copies again, even if only bits and pieces that appealed to me.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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