Exhibition Explores Unconventional Approaches to Printmaking

American and European émigré artists renowned for their contributions to intaglio printmaking in the years following World War II are featured in an exhibition opening Sept. 25 at the Yale University Art Gallery.

“The Pull of Experiment: Postwar American Printmaking” examines the creative spirit inspired by interactions among American and European artists following the war and explores the artists’ experimentation with style, techniques, tools and materials. The 42 prints in the exhibition are drawn largely from the gallery’s collection and include a recent donation of works, as well as several loans, from the collection of Yale alumnus James N. Heald II ‘49.

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The Pull of Experiment

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For printmaking in America, the 20 years following the Second World War were a dynamic and innovative period during which artists fundamentally reconsidered the boundaries of the medium, according to Katherine Alcauskas, the Florence B. Selden Fellow at the Yale University Art Gallery and organizer of the exhibit. Numerous European printmakers immigrated to America in the years leading up to and during World War II, and many settled in New York City or at universities across the country, where they established workshops and headed 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.

Among the European artists represented in “The Pull of Experiment” are Harry Bertoia, Naum Gabo, Boris Margo, Gabor Peterdi (who taught at Yale for more than 25 years) and Karl Schrag; the American artists are Fred Becker, Sue Fuller, Roderick Fletcher Mead, Louise Nevelson and Jackson Pollock.

British artist Stanley William Hayter, whose work is also featured in the exhibition, established the first modern independent workshop in America devoted to experimentation with intaglio printmaking. Called Atelier 17, the workshop was for many of these artists a gathering place 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 medium.

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.

“Many artists of this period felt that printmaking had become a medium used to imitate other media, such as painting or drawing, and I want to show how these artists insisted that method and result come together to create a unique effect - that it was important for the process to be appropriate for the image,” says Alcauskas. She notes how the artists, influenced by a number of contemporary movements including Cubism and Surrealism, adapted their imagery and personal style. The Pollock print featured in the exhibition, for example, is indicative of how Pollock’s experimentation in intaglio printmaking helped unlock his visual style, Alcauskas says.

“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. They also used conventional intaglio printmaking tools and materials with new intention, repurposing traditional print processes for new ends.

A number of special events are being held in conjunction with the exhibition. “In More Depth” gallery talks will take place on Tuesdays, Sept. 29 and Nov. 17, at 4 p.m. and on Oct. 20 at noon. A “Focus On” gallery talk will take place on Wednesday, Nov. 11, at 12:20 p.m. A master class on the exhibit will be offered by Alcauskas on Thursdays, Oct. 1, Nov. 5 and Dec. 3, at 5:30 p.m. To register for the series of master classes, visit http://artgallery.yale.edu.

“The Pull of Experiment: Postwar American Printmaking” will be on view through Jan. 3. The exhibition is accompanied by a 16-page brochure with an essay by Alcauskas, an exhibition checklist and suggested further reading. The exhibition is made possible by an endowment created with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Florence B. Selden Fund, with additional support provided by Mr. and Mrs. James Heald II.

The Yale University Art Gallery, located at 1111 Chapel St., is open Tuesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Thursday until 8 p.m.) and Sunday, 1-6 p.m. It is closed Mondays and major holidays. For more information, visit http://artgallery.yale.edu or call (203) 432-0600.

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