Is drawing necessary for printmakers? Printmaking has always been considered one of the Graphic Arts, and drawing was long its primary act. But contemporary printmaking is wonderfully diverse, and today prints do not necessarily begin with drawing.
Consider Pauline Jakobsberg’s poignant Pen Pals, in which she superimposes an old family photo over the last letter from an uncle who died in battle. (The print is from her Legacy Series, commemorating the struggles of family members on both sides of the Atlantic during WWII.)
Or Martha Oatway’s monoprint, Palisades, which incorporates the imprint of an actual spray of leaves alongside images of tree branches printed from manipulated photographs using paper lithography.
And Andis Applewhite derives the imagery for her elegant silkscreen abstractions – such as Duo A – from her explorations of the “relational, emotional and psychic aspects of ourselves.”
But prints drawn directly from life remain a powerful and important segment of printmaking. Paul Steinhardt, in his 2004 book on figure drawing, The Undressed Art, asserts that “we draw to see.” This doesn’t mean that we can’t see if we don’t draw. The act of making a visual record by hand is only one way to see more intensely. But it is a powerful way. And the resulting image – drawing or print – offers the viewer the privilege of seeing and understanding through the artist’s vision and skill.
Certainly this true of the work of both Lee Newman and Max-Karl Winkler.
Looking at Newman’s Sleeping Patient, we sense the elderly figure’s bulk beneath her shapeless clothes. We feel the way she is slumped into the wheelchair. And we can almost see her head nodding: the artist has left untouched the vestiges of his initial sketch of her head, when it was thrown back at a different angle. It is as though we stand at the artist’s shoulder; we watch as the crayon pushes and lifts, probing for structure and meaning.
In his drypoint, Homeless Man, Tenleytown, Newman has drawn directly into the metal plate which he will use to print, working with etching needle and roulette instead of crayon. The jagged marks and intense darks record the figure’s bulk and his unsettling stare as he emerges out of the dark that surrounds him. Newman has said that to draw – or even to look at – the elderly and homeless people whom he depicts so often, takes an act of courage. In spite, or perhaps because of this, he presents them to us with an objective compassion, and his images grant them dignity even in their unloveliness.
Max-Karl Winkler’s portraits of his friends and family are entirely different, rooted as they are in his affectionate engagement with his sitters. The artist’s recent solo show at Washington Printmakers Gallery featured portraits in drawing and woodcut. (See Winkler’s https://dcimprint.wordpress.com/2009/03/25/lessons-learned-from-a-solo-show/ .)
Winkler made the drawing of his son, Dagan, directly from life, which may account for the energy and immediacy of the image.
It is instructive to compare this drawing with the woodcut of Dagan. While clearly based on the drawing, the woodcut is in no sense a mere copy. Rather Winkler has taken the same material and transformed it into an independent work of art, powerful on its own terms. The artist has expanded the visual field to include his son’s torso and sensitive hands. By manipulating the relative weights of the lines in the hair, the turtleneck, and the heavy jacket, Winkler conveys – using only black and white – a sense of both color and texture. And although the intimacy of the drawing is gone, it is replaced by a greater solidity of presence. There is a majesty to this image, which depicts the ease and strength, as well as the vulnerability, of young manhood.
So while drawing is no longer a prerequisite for printmaking, it is clearly not obsolete. When the drawn line is as responsive and revealing as it is in the work of Newman and Winkler, the resulting image will always be worthwhile pondering.
Margaret Adams Parker