While trying to sneak in some last minute summer reading before the September rush, I recently visited the main branch of the Philadelphia Free Library. While there, I took the opportunity – as anyone who ever visits there should – to breeze through the wing of the West Gallery and to see what’s on display. Until September 5, it’s the 66th Members' Exhibition of the American Color Print Society.
Like most organizational member exhibitions, the work is the show varies from the somewhat amateurish to impressive examples of the medium. As a printmaker myself, I was most affected by prints such as Elizabeth H. McDonald’s monotype Bird (see above, photo by the Graphic Conscience). The monotype medium can be splotchy and lackluster, but in the hands of the right person, it has an immediacy that cannot be duplicated. According to the accompanying text, McDonald explains that her one of kind pieces evolve through almost a collagraph means of creation. What drew me in most what the sense in her work that the process takes over, and the artist becomes a mere conduit for the creation of the work. Printmakers know that when the work starts cooking like that, it’s real good.
Relief was well represented in the exhibition with impressive reduction and multi block examples by Natalia Moroz and Anthony Lazorko respectively. I’d like the opportunity to see more work by both of them.
In the intaglio field, some of the work felt disappointingly imitative of Mary Cassatt or Katsushika Hokusai. While I can understand the desire to be like such graphic masters, I feel that there is a difference between evoking the similar feelings and simply mimicking. That said, ACPS members Stephanie Nicholson and Yuji Hiratsuka provided stunning examples of the medium.
Ironically, the print with the strongest presence in the exhibition was a tiny – I’m estimating three by two inches – piece by Herbert Appelson. Unlike some of the etchings, it was suggestive of work by Käthe Kollwitz without being derivative. Between the two figures in his print is a feeling of narrative, a dynamic that intrigues. Despite its tiny size, it is bold enough to carry and hold a viewer’s attention.
The quality of the prints aside, the installation of the exhibit felt a bit stretched to cover all the cases of the West Gallery. Very few of the prints had a strong enough presence to hold an entire case by themselves, or even with one other print. I couldn’t help thinking there could have been more consideration of the installation. However, the exhibition text broke down the processes used by the artist in easy to understand bits of information for those who are not members of the cognoscenti.