Pub­lic works

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Visual Arts -

Linocut #5 from Linocuts (2006). Printed by Jo Watan­abe, New York. QUT Art Col­lec­tion. Pur­chased 2007. On dis­play un­til July 28 in Heavy Weights: In­ter­na­tional Works on Pa­per from the Col­lec­tion at QUT Art Mu­seum, Gar­dens Point cam­pus, Bris­bane.

THE hum­ble linocut print­ing process, in­tro­duced in Ger­many in the early 20th cen­tury, was of­ten dis­par­aged by artists who felt the tech­nique lacked sub­tlety and com­plex­ity and was suit­able only for school­child­ren and am­a­teurs.

There were some dis­senters, how­ever. Erich Heckel and the Die Brucke group as well as Bri­tish artist Claude Flight used linocut reg­u­larly, rev­el­ling in the ease of goug­ing and carv­ing lines into the soft sur­face of the linoleum. But it wasn’t un­til ma­jor artists such as Henri Matisse and Pablo Pi­casso started us­ing the tech­nique and achieved grat­i­fy­ing re­sults that the prej­u­dice against the lino print di­min­ished.

The sur­pris­ing po­ten­tial of the tech­nique can also be seen in Sol LeWitt’s Linocuts, a se­ries of nine coloured lino prints. Pro­duced in 2006, it is one of the last works he cre­ated be­fore he died in 2007.

Linocuts is on show at Bris­bane’s Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy Art Mu­seum in an ex­hi­bi­tion ti­tled Heavy Weights, which show­cases some of the univer­sity’s sig­nif­i­cant col­lec­tion of in­ter­na­tional works on pa­per. Hang­ing along­side the LeWitt, are prints by key artists such as Wass­ily Kandin­sky, Joan Miro, Alexan­der Calder, David Hock­ney, Au­guste Rodin, Chuck Close and Joe Til­son.

LeWitt’s nine prints dom­i­nate one wall of the gallery. It is such a com­mand­ing group­ing be­cause the same colours — yel­low, red, blue, pur­ple and green — are re­peated through­out the prints in dif­fer­ent con­fig­u­ra­tions of geo­met­ric shapes. With the rep­e­ti­tion of shapes and hard-edged colour, LeWitt has elim­i­nated any per­sonal nar­ra­tive and the ef­fect is to give a dif­fer­ent vis­ual ex­pe­ri­ence in each print.

Ac­cord­ing to the mu­seum’s se­nior cu­ra­tor Vanessa Van Ooyen, LeWitt has el­e­vated the sta­tus of the linocut. ‘‘ He has re­ally pushed the bound­aries of print­mak­ing, and in par­tic­u­lar, the stand­ing of the linocut, to show the ex­tra­or­di­nary com­plex­ity that you can ac­tu­ally achieve with such a sim­ple tech­nique,’’ she says.

‘‘ I think the whole thing about LeWitt was that he was try­ing to de­bunk the idea of the fine-art ob­ject that has this high-art sta­tus. He re­ally wanted art that was ac­ces­si­ble, and he has achieved that in th­ese linocuts.’’

Van Ooyen says Linocuts is like a vis­ual puz­zle or a Ru­bik’s cube, or even a mu­si­cal score. ‘‘ The sign of a great work is that it res­onates with you, and I think this sim­ple pat­tern­ing and this se­lec­tion of the colours is so strong. He plays with the shapes and he places the viewer in a vis­ual co­nun­drum. For me, th­ese linocuts are also like mu­si­cal notes, or a mu­si­cal score in some lan­guage we haven’t de­ci­phered yet.’’

LeWitt, who was born in 1928 in Con­necti­cut, was a lu­mi­nary of mod­ern Amer­i­can art, help­ing es­tab­lish con­cep­tual art and min­i­mal­ism. Th­ese im­por­tant move­ments, which were a re­jec­tion of ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ism and its per­sonal, emo­tional angst, re­sulted in a new ap­proach to think­ing about art.

In the 1960s, LeWitt was renowned for his wall draw­ings and sculp­tural ‘‘ struc­tures’’ us­ing ba­sic geo­met­ric shapes, such as the tri­an­gle and sphere, but print­mak­ing was an im­por­tant part of his oeu­vre. He was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in se­ri­al­i­sa­tion, in­flu­enced by mu­sic and by Ead­weard Muy­bridge’s se­quen­tial pho­to­graphs of peo­ple and an­i­mals in mo­tion.

De­spite his celebrity sta­tus in the art world, Le Witt was no­to­ri­ously reclu­sive. He was, as The New York Times once de­scribed him, ‘‘ the op­po­site of the artist as celebrity’’; he wanted peo­ple to be in­ter­ested in the work. For LeWitt, the aim of art was to re­duce it to es­sen­tials, to start from square one and to fo­cus on the pri­macy of the orig­i­nal idea be­cause, as he once said, ‘‘ Ba­nal ideas can­not be res­cued by beau­ti­ful ex­e­cu­tion.’’

Edi­tion of 26; ma­te­ri­als: Fabri­ano Clas­sico, 350g; di­men­sions:

45.1cm x 45.1cm

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