You could say without exaggeration that Miro in New York 1947, the new exhibition at Easton’s Academy Art Museum, was centuries in the making–preceding by one year the inauguration of the first president of the United States. Much of the printmaking derived from works by Atelier 17 artists now on display until just past the Fourth of July are rooted in a relief-etching technique invented by poet William Blake in 1788.
Blake dubbed it “illuminated printing,” by which some of his written masterpieces were published in book form. Works by artists-in-residence at the New York-based atelier–many of them refugees of war and genocide–adorn illustrated texts of then-living poets, principally Ruthven Todd, whose first name honors a Norse clan of Scottish noblemen. An early 1947 Miro print enhances Todd’s verses, translated from Spanish:
“Once he had a country where the sun shone,
Through the enchanted trees like lace.
But now it is troubled, and happiness is gone.
For the bombs fell in that fine place
And the magician found we he had woken
His people killed, his gay pots broken.”
Literal words meld progressively into visual art as one moves through the two galleries of about 70 Miro, Hayter, and Atelier 17 works. Although Miro–Joan Miro of Spain–is the headliner of this exhibition, British artist Stanley William Hayter was the seminal printmaking artist whose spark and glue held the transplant school together through the early postwar years that drew them to New York in the first place.
Notably, Hayter created a welcome environment for women artists, a dozen of whom are represented in this show–principally Czech-French printmaker/painter/sculptor Terry Haass, but also Norma Morgan, whose artworks are featured in a companion solo exhibit in AAM’s two smaller first-floor galleries initiated and curated by Mehves Lelic, the museum’s new chief curator. Lelic also completed curation of the “Miro” exhibit planned by the administration of museum director Benjamin Simons, now directing Telfair Museums in Savannah, Ga., and Anke Van Wagenberg, currently curator at Vero Beach (Fla.) Art Museum. Sarah Jesse, formerly deputy director of California’s Orange County Museum of Art, is now Easton’s new director.
Among the stars of the main AAM exhibit, besides Miro and Hayter, is American artist Fred Becker, whose wife, fellow American Jean Morrison, was also an Atelier 17 mainstay when it relocated to New York City after the Nazis marched into Paris in 1940. Around this time, Miro also arrived in America as fascist troops overthrew government loyalists in his native Spain’s civil war. Miro joined Hayter’s group of artists in refining a method of printing in the cursive style of handwriting deployed by Blake a century and a half earlier. These largely text-driven prints resemble a printed page–including copper-plate etchings. Others by Miro feature a more vibrant intaglio technique embroidered with imagery that offers a glimpse into his later Surrealism period–primitively expressive and free-flowing.
Atelier 17’s printmaking explorations stretch far beyond text in the next gallery. Femmes et Oiseau Devant la Lune (Women and Bird in Front of the Moon) from 1947 captures the Miro we’ve come to know in paintings that succeeded this experimental phase in a long career. (Miro lived to survive his 90th birthday by several months.)
Haass’ Breaking the Vicious Circle engraving of three highly abstract figures is more painterly than etchingly–if that’s a word–more brush-stroked than carved out. Becker’s Aerial Jungle series progresses from three copper plates to earth-toned flyover views suggesting an untrammeled rainforest. Hayter’s Falling Figures series represents a stark departure from poet Blake’s plate-making that originally launched the Atelier 17 mission. Waxy “soft-ground” etching facilitates drawing by pencil point, offering a free hand for artists to experiment with abstractions bringing to mind, for instance, works by Yves Tanguy, foreseen in text-anchored Slender Dignity of Isolated Bones.
The best works of Norma Morgan are saved for her Enchanted World exhibit. So, don’t skip the galleries just down the hall from the museum’s new Harrison Street courtyard entrance. Her hand-colored engraving of Harriet Tubman in a biblical-miracle setting is not to be missed. Nor is her Sojourner Truth, Spirit of the Mountain, a celebration of the ongoing civil rights struggle.
And now that spring is no longer threatening snowstorms (we hope), as in the upper Midwest, it’s an ideal time to take in the outdoor Waterwall installation by Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann before it comes down in June. The mixed-media enclosure of acrylic, silkscreen, and collaged vinyl-over-glass evokes the artist’s interpretation of Chinese cave murals transformed minute to minute by sunlight and passing clouds.
Indoor and outdoor art. Masks are still part of our collective viewing experience. But at least we have one now. And these works are well worth any trivial inconvenience.
Steve Parks is a retired New York arts critic and editor now living in Easton.
MIRO IN NEW YORK, 1947: Miro, Hayter and Atelier 17
Through July 8, Academy Art Museum, 106 South St. Easton, online viewing available through Aug. 1. Zoom conversation with Carla Esposito Hayter, art historian, and daughter-law of Atelier 17 founder Stanley William Hayter, led by AAM curator Mehves Lilic, 10 a.m. May 8, $20-$24.
NORMA MORGAN: ENCHANTED WORLD
Through Aug. 1, Academy Art Museum; 410-822-2787, academyartmuseum.org. Admission: $3, free for children 12 and younger. Hours: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, noon-4 p.m. Sundays, closed Mondays.
WATERWALL: Katherine Tzu-Lan Mann
Through June 6, an outdoor installation on museum grounds, South and Harrison streets