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Arkansas Arts Center exhibitions explore the nature of inspiration
Herman Maril, American (Baltimore, Maryland, 1908 - 1986, Hyannis, Massachusetts), Mexico, 1969, ink wash and watercolor with pencil on paper, Nadja Maril Crilly Collection.

LITTLE ROCK, ARK.- Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience and Ansel Adams: Early Works on view at the Arkansas Arts Center, explore the careers of two important American modernists. The exhibitions opened January 27 and will be on view through April 16, 2017.

Herman Maril: The Strong Forms of Our Experience features 90 works by the great mid-Atlantic Modernist. Maril is known best for his oil paintings, but works on paper were also a major part of his production throughout his career. Ink and wash drawings, gouaches, watercolors and prints are all being featured alongside selected oil paintings. The exhibition surveys Maril’s career from the 1920s to the 1980s, a project that Arkansas Arts Center Curator of Drawings, Dr. Ann Prentice Wagner, has been researching for seven years. In writing the exhibition catalog, Wagner used newly available archival sources, interviews and recently conserved works of art to tell Maril’s story in greater and more accurate detail than ever before.

Maril, the artist and art professor, was an independent American original in an era defined by groups and movements like abstract expressionism and pop art. His strongest stylistic affiliation was to French modernists Henri Matisse, Paul Cezanne and Georges Braque. While the center of the American art world was New York, Maril remained loyal to his home city of Baltimore, Maryland. He traveled to remain in touch with the wider world of art, but always returned home, where gritty Baltimore streets, serene Cape Cod beaches and horses in Maryland fields were often the subjects of his work.

The son of poor Lithuanian immigrants, Maril always dreamed of becoming an artist. After graduating from the Maryland Institute, the artist worked as a janitor to pay for a studio as he developed his modernist style. His major break came in 1933 when Washington, D.C. collector and museum founder Duncan Phillips spotted the artist’s work. Maril was then chosen to participate in the Public Works of Art Project, the first of the New Deal art programs, and his work was published and shown in Baltimore, Washington and New York. After serving in the Army during World War II, he taught studio art at the University of Maryland. He often traveled to the artists’ colony, Provincetown, on Cape Cod, where he befriended giants such as Milton Avery and Mark Rothko. This will be Maril’s first one-man exhibition in Arkansas.

Ansel Adams: Early Works features 41 original prints, focusing on the masterful small-scale images Adams made from the 1920s into the 1950s. In the 1920s, Adams printing style was already beginning to evolve from the soft-focus, warm-toned, painterly Parmelian prints of the 1920s to the f/64 school of sharp-focused photography that he would co-found in the 1930s. After World War II, his style continued to move toward a cooler, high-contrast printmaking style. Throughout, Adams is revealed as a poet of light, both in the field and in the darkroom.

Adams was a giant in the field of American landscape photography. His work is often viewed as the end of an arc of American art concerned with capturing the “sublime” in unspoiled Western landscapes, a tradition that included painters Albert Bierstadt, Thomas Cole and Thomas Moran, as well as photographers Carleton Watkins, Timothy O’Sullivan and William Henry Jackson.

For much of his early adulthood, Adams was torn between a career as a concert pianist versus one in photography. Later, he famously likened the photographic negative to a musical score, and the print to the performance. Yet most museum-goers are only familiar with the heroic, high-contrast prints on highgloss paper stock that Adams manufactured to order in the 1970s and 1980s, which coincided with the emergence of the first retail galleries devoted to photography. The later, high-contrast prints are akin to “brass bands,” whereas the earlier prints – intimate and rich in middle tones – are more like “chamber music.” This is the first time the Arkansas Arts Center has hosted an exhibition devoted to the photography of Ansel Adams.

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