Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Robert Blackburn Retrospective at the David C. Driskell Center

Last week I had the good fortune to see Passages, a retrospective of works by Modernist printmaker Robert Blackburn at the David C. Driskell Center in Maryland. It is on view through December 19. Anyone near that area interested in printmaking, Modern art, or African American art history should definitely check it out. If you can't get there, you can view all the work online here (although the Driskell Center puts a horribly large and distracting watermark across all those images), or you can purchase the show catalog here.

To my delight, the exhibit included 25 woodcuts! Almost all were made in the 1960's-70's. All are abstractions, mostly color, and many using the grain and imperfections in the block's surface or edges to add texture. I had some difficulty deciding which to highlight on this blog post. I decided on these two works, Yellow Flash and Blue Things, because I think they both read well on a computer screen, and I find them both particularly exciting. In person they are also of considerable size for woodcuts: 20" x 26" and 26" x 20".

Although it is easy to see representational imagery in many of these works, it is probably not the artist's intention, given the period and tradition in which Blackburn worked. This is further indicated by the fact that he frequently changed the orientation of his works. For instance, the version of Blue Things exhibited was oriented and signed on the bottom as it is presented here, but I have also found it upsidedown, and signed so as to indicate that orientation.

Enough of my excessive blathering on.

Yellow Flash 

The sea, quartered by fire.
No hand of Zeus, but
More than a lightening bolt.

Blue Things 

Desert or sunset,
Tumbling or at rest,
It matters not. Just look.

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