NEW HAVEN, CT.-
For printmaking in America, the twenty years following the Second World War were a dynamic and innovative period during which artists fundamentally reconsidered the boundaries of the medium. The Yale University Art Gallery
offers a special exhibition featuring American and European émigré artists whose work in intaglio printmaking was marked by this new impulse for experimentation. The Pull of Experiment: Postwar American Printmaking, on view from September 25, 2009, through January 3, 2010, examines the creative spirit inspired by interactions among these artists following the war and explores these artists experimentation with style, techniques, tools, and materials. The forty-two prints in the exhibition are drawn largely from the Gallerys permanent collection and include a recent donation of works, as well as several loans, from the collection of Yale alumnus James N. Heald II, b.s. 1949.
The Pull of Experiment: Postwar American Printmaking showcases American and European émigré artists renowned for their contributions to intaglio printmaking. Among the many Europeans who immigrated to America in the years leading up to and during World War II were numerous printmakers, many of whom settled in New York City or at universities throughout the country, establishing workshops and heading print departments. From the various experiences and exchanges this mobilization produced, American and European artists alike were exposed to a plethora of styles, imagery, and ideas. The Pull of Experiment features the innovative prints that resulted from this period of intense interaction, including work by the European artists Harry Bertoia, Naum Gabo, Boris Margo, Gabor Peterdi (who taught at Yale for more than 25 years), and Karl Schrag, and American artists Fred Becker, Sue Fuller, Roderick Fletcher Mead, Louise Nevelson, and Jackson Pollock.
One such notable émigré, whose work is also featured in the exhibition, was the British artist Stanley William Hayter. Hayters New York workshop, Atelier 17, was the first modern independent workshop in America devoted to experimentation with intaglio printmaking and was a gathering place for many of these artists, where they could exchange ideas, demonstrate new techniques, and share advice. Led by Hayter, they sought to revitalize the creative properties of intaglio printmaking and bring about its reconsideration as a primary artistic medium. The European artists encouraged their American counterparts to cross boundaries and explore printmaking.
The artists in The Pull of Experiment turned to printmaking, a medium that has technical requirements above and beyond that of painting or drawing, with new exuberance and intent. Many artists of this period felt that printmaking had become a medium used to imitate other media, such as painting and drawing, and I want to show how these artists insisted that method and result come together to create a unique effectthat it was important for the process to be appropriate for the image, says Katherine Alcauskas, the Florence B. Selden Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery and organizer of the exhibition. Influenced by a number of contemporary movements, including Cubism and Surrealism, artists adapted their imagery and personal style. Alcauskas points out, for instance, that the Jackson Pollock print featured in the exhibition is indicative of how Pollocks experimentation in intaglio printmaking helped unlock his visual style.
The Pull of Experiment also illustrates how these artists, some of whom had worked in factories during the war, brought unconventional, and often industrial, tools and materials to traditional print processes, adapting drills and plastics to their practice, and thus blurring the traditional boundaries of intaglio printmaking. In addition, they used conventional intaglio printmaking tools and materials with new intention, repurposing traditional print processes for new and highly innovative ends. With these explorations, the artists featured in this exhibition felt that they could acquire a greater proficiency in the medium, which in turn could engender a stronger sense of freedom in their work.
Through experimentation, the printmakers working in America during the postwar period expected to discover the most fitting and creative means for producing their imagery. The artists active during this period had a profound effect on the future of printmaking.
Intaglio printing is one of three categories of printmaking, along with relief printing and planographic printing. In intaglio prints, grooves are formed in a matrix, most often a metal plate, through processes such as engraving, etching, or aquatint. Ink is then forced into these grooves and is transferred to paper with the aid of a printing press.