Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Importance of Ateliers

Karl Schrag, Evening Fragrance of Gardens, 1963.
Two color etching and aquatint,  Gift of the artist. 
Syracuse University Art Collection, 1970.711
We are almost half-way through the exhibition of Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions, and we have had many questions about the printmaking process and who creates the prints. It's a great question because who actually makes the print varies with each artist. Ateliers are often the "think tanks" where things happen for artists whose first medium is not printmaking.

Hand-pulled prints may be created in several ways--among the earliest methods is the wood block print, which is a wood block that has the background carved away in order to have the design stand out. Simply put, the block looks something like a rubber stamp. To create the print, a brayer with ink is rolled over the top of the block. Dampened paper is then placed on the block and the design is impressed on the paper through the press. If there is more than one color, then there will be additional blocks.

Albrecht DΓΌrer fostered the engraving and etching process and the technique remains pretty much the same as it was in the 16th century. This process is much more complex-- a design is scratched into a copper plate and parts of the plate are soaked in an acid bath in order to make the line deeper. This deepened line holds more ink. The more lines there are and the longer the plate sits in the acid, the darker the lines. This process allows a tone variance in the print. 

As science and technology evolved, so did other printmaking processes such as lithography and silkscreen. While there is not room to discuss the details of these processes, the point to be made is that it often "takes a village," to borrow a phrase. The artist who comes up with the concept, the artist who translates the painting or other into a working drawing, an engraver, a printer, and other members of the atelier who are involved in keeping the shop going. The engraver and printer are responsible for the final product's quality. Their expertise and experience enables the artist to translate his/her works into the printmaking medium.

There is so much more to discuss about this topic, but printmaking workshops are not a modern idea, as many artists from centuries past collaborated (or hired) artists to create the engraved plate based upon other artwork. Schrag was the director of the world-known Atelier 17 for a period of time; therefore,  it was his job to see that the artists' intentions were realized. Importantly,  Schrag created his own prints. No small effort. He was the artist, etcher, printer--all roles that require vision, technical expertise, and artistry.

The exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions," remains on view through October 16 at The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions
August 28 - October 16, 2013

Schrag's Self-Portraits

The Mitchell Gallery staff is busy preparing for the Members Reception on Friday in honor of the exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions. Since nametags are created for these events, an inquiry for an appropriate image
Karl Schrag (1912-1995), Self Portrait, 
Black and White, n.d. Oil on board. 
Loan, courtesy of Katherine and 
Lawrence Wangh.
to accompany it came across my desk. Choosing an image for various print/media use is always a challenge because of the variety of considerations, including the  orientation, resolution, color match, theme, tone, plus,  everybody has to like it. In my ponderings, I came across the large undated self-portrait created by Schrag titled, "Self-Portrait, Black and White." This three-quarter length oil on canvas is one of four self-portraits in the exhibition and I was thinking how different they are from each other, differences not necessarily due to the age of the artist.

I have several questions I thought I would share about his portrait. Portraits are created for a variety of reasons--a formal portrait usually  commemorates a person or event and often depicts the sitter's professional or social status. Portraits can be created for personal viewing and may provide psychological insights of the artist or the sitter. Sometimes the artist will be included sort of incognito and mixed in a group of people, while others are alone and straightforward. So, what is the purpose of this particular self-portrait? Somehow it seems so personal. It is certainly different from Schrag's self-portrait created to advertise an exhibition of his work at the Smithsonian Institution for the National Collection of Fine Arts. That mission is direct and to the point: publicity. 

Another of Schrag's self-portraits hangs just above the opening text panel in the exhibition. It is a bust and painted with greens/blues/yellows in the face--very Matisse-like, perhaps even Fauvist? Matisse's influence wouldn't be so far fetched since Schrag was in the first half of his career at Matisse's death in 1952.

It's fun to think about the actual production of the work too. In "Self Portrait, Black and White," Schrag is wearing a cap. Is his cap part of his fashion sense or does it cover a new bald head at that time in his life? Is the sweater one he wore every day, or just in the studio? Did it give him a sense of comfort and routine, a sort of centering like a favorite blanket? Does he show the same features consistently? Usually an artist uses a mirror to create his/her own portrait, so everything is backward. Schrag is shown with the paintbrush in his right hand. Did he correct the image or the pose to reflect right-handedness?  It leads me to wonder how Schrag saw himself at different times in his life. I know if I were creating a self-portrait, there are probably a few features I'd like to soften, but it wouldn't be my left-handedness!

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg
Art Educator

Learn More:

Attend the lecture by exhibition curator Domenic Iacono, Wednesday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m.

Bring friends and family to the Public Reception and Family Event, from 3:30 - 5 p.m., Sunday, September 22.
No registration is necessary.

Thanks to the generosity of the Mitchell Gallery members, these events are free and open to the public.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Mitchell Gallery's exhibition of Karl Schrag

The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College

Lucinda Dukes Edinberg
Art Educator

Welcome to the new blog for The Mitchell Art Gallery at St. John's College! Our newest exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions, is an interesting collection of over 40 modernist drawings, paintings and prints. Curated by Syracuse University Art Galleries director, Domenic Iacono,  this exhibition was first on view at the Lowe Gallery at Syracuse University last fall. The Mitchell Gallery is honored to be the first "road" venue.

Karl Schrag, Coast in Autumn, 1960. Gouache on illustration board. SUAC 1962-057. Courtesy
of Syracuse University Art Collection.

Sadly, Karl Schrag (1912-1995) may be an unfamiliar name to many, and I confess that my knowledge of him was sparse until Syracuse's exhibition of his works from their collection. That said, Schrag's career was impressive and distinctive in a number of ways. Schrag had a number of sides to his career as a father of two children and a teacher, probably his most well-known role was that of serving as the director of Atelier 17, the world-renown experimental printmaking workshop originally founded in Paris by Stanley William Hayter in 1927. While much is to be said about Hayter (and amusingly, Schrag's writings refers to Hayter as "Bill," certainly a name I've never heard for the revered printmaker!) Schrag's work, like Hayter, supported printmaking as an independent art form.

Stanley William Hayter, Courtesy of Limited 
Edition Graphics www.wolman-prints.com
Due to the war in Europe, Hayter moved Atelier 17  to New York City, initially at the New School for Social Research, and then relocated again in 1945 to Greenwich Village.  Schrag was one of the artists associated with the Atelier and later became the director. This workshop, whether in Paris or New York City,  was a place of collaboration by artists from all over the world, including Calder, Chagall, Miro, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko and others. Their timing for resurrecting lithography, etching, woodblock and other techniques came at a period where printmaking had been relegated to mass production technology for books, newspapers, and advertising media in the 19th century and early 20th century. Through the efforts of several artists, including Hayter and Schrag printmaking was once again recognized as an artistic and creative medium and the atelier served as a "think tank" for collaboration. Schrag wrote:

The Atelier was in a sense a meeting place where problems for beyond printmaking were discussed. It was not at all like a crafts school or anything like that. The whole complex of what graphics could be and also the elements that make up graphics, like line, and values, and to a degree, color--the whole problem became visible and you could make your own choice as to what you would accept and what you can accept.

Much can be written about Atelier 17, as it has its own story, but this workshop provided a space for experimentation, exploration, and creativity and Schrag is part of its history.

Learn More:
  • Visit The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College to see the exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions, on view through October 16, 2013.
  • Bring your brown bag lunch and get some quick insights on the exhibition with "Art Express," a noon-time lecture on Wednesday, September 11, from 12:15-12:45. Water, soda and juices provided.
  • Attend the lecture by exhibition curator Domenic Iacono, Wednesday, September 18 at 7:30 p.m.
  • For the history of Atelier 17, http://www.ateliercontrepoint.com/a173.html
  • Exhibition catalogue, "Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions" by Domenic Iacono with contributions by John Gordon, Una Johnson, Carl Little and Karl Schrag.