The Energy of American Expressionism:
When people think of expressionism in American art of the 20th Century, Abstract Expressionism usually comes to mind. However, Abstract Expressionism was not a style. Emerging in New York in the 1940’s, it was a breaking away from traditional European painting and the Socialist Realism in Eastern Europe and Russia. Thus leaving behind the figurative and exploring the free flowing expression of automatism, dealing with impulse and chance - an unpremeditated action. This made the United States look far more progressive, during the cold war.
In the 1950’s on the West Coast in the Bay area, artists were experimenting with prints and testing the boundaries of lithography. Deborah Remington (CSFA, California School of Fine Arts, San Francisco) and Leon Goldin (CCAC California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland) were both experimenting with the technique of Evolutionary Color Lithography created by Nathan Oliveira at CSFA. This is printing from a single stone. This method used layers of color ink, which were applied and several images were overprinted in sequence, thus manipulating the surface. The stone became like a canvas. The artist left the static surface of the picture plane and let the movement take over; a movement of improvised experience rather than strict technique.
After working with prints for over forty years, I no longer categorize them for myself. In fact, I see more similarities than differences. I find myself focusing on the energy in the prints and the energy used to create the prints. This covers representational as well as abstract imagery. The pushing of a tool used to create an etched or engraved line; ink rolled onto a lithographic stone or plate; ink pulled with a squeegee across a (fabric) screen or hand brushed strokes of a monotype. Often the prints are pulled by a Master Printer and the print becomes a true collaboration between artist and printer.
On the “walls” of this on line exhibition “hang” examples of American Expressionism. I compare Robert Motherwell’s lithograph, “Automatism A,” 1966, with Lou Barlow’s wood engraving “Jitterbugs,” c.1935. Barlow creates precisely incised lines of complicated patterns. It is a slow process of cutting into a hard block of boxwood with sharp tools. If his movements were sped up, put on “fast forward” and magnified, you would see enormous energy behind the cuts. This is like Motherwell’s energetic brushstrokes of ink on a lithographic stone. In a way, the large abstract shapes in “Automatism A” echo the movements of Barlow’s figures. Motherwell conducts the orchestra and Barlow’s performers dance!