Lithography depends on the fact that oil and water repel each other. Artists make their marks on stone or metal plates with a greasy substance like crayon or liquids. The quality of those marks is maintained when the plates receive ink. Lithographs can look just like original drawings, paintings, or even photographs when certain chemical processes are used. They allow the artist’s hand to be ever present, whether delicate, bold, deliberate or arbitrary.
“Tamarind” demonstrates that flexibility with samples as diverse as the formal constructions of Louise Nevelson, the direct and childlike drawing styles of Philip Guston and the precise renderings of Philip Pearlstein. There are visual surprises around every corner.
Artists prone to working directly and intuitively adapt well to lithography. Leon Golub’s “Running Man” from 1965 illustrates how the artist’s loose and gestural marks made directly on the plate hold up as multiple prints are pulled. Golub’s heavy lines, visually similar to charcoal marks, remain as fresh in “Running Man” as the brush strokes of his well-known paintings.
Artists prone to painterly applications of color and tone have made remarkable prints at Tamarind. Sam Francis’ expressive splashes and drips, usually created with paint on canvas, play out perfectly in his untitled print from 1966, as does Robert Colescott’s loose painting style in a black-and-white figural image.
Accuracy in line and tone is as achievable with the medium as the fluid qualities of paint. Veja Celmins, known for her optically realistic paintings depicting fields of pattern from nature, made a tonal lithograph of a rolling sea that bears a remarkable similarity to a black-and-white photograph. Ed Ruscha’s color image of the word “angel” that appears as a tattoo, and Philip Pearlstein’s untitled nude also count on precision during the transfer from plate to paper.
Lithography allows printing color gradation and intensity that is difficult to achieve in other media. Margo Humphrey’s “The Getaway” exploits the opportunity with color by combining a number of qualities in her storybooklike image. She gradates the sky with colors ranging from bright blue-green to deep indigo, builds layers of flat patterns to describe a running tiger and floating figures, and frames the image with a whimsical multihued border. Color doesn’t get any more graphic or vivid than in this composition.
Don’t think that artists go to Tamarind just to produce multiple copies of one image. As this show proves, lithography is a process of artistic possibility. Why else would Louise Nevelson, best known for the wood assemblages she made for more than 40 years, be tempted to work with stone? S
“Tamarind: Forty Years of Lithography” is on display at the University of Richmond’s Marsh Gallery through Dec. 14.