Sunday, April 14, 2013

Robert Motherwell’s “A la Pintura” — art of the epic dimension: a collaboration of painter, poet, printmaker, and publisher

Robert Motherwell, (American, 1915–1991)
Frontpiece – from A la Pintura, 1971, published 1972
Color aquatint from one copper plate and letterpress on white wove paper
121 x 197 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 82 artist's proof; Sparks 15 artist's proof
Prints are from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photographs by versluis are for educational purposes.

Motherwell’s “A la Pintura” is being shown as part of a wonderful exhibition titled, The Artist and the Poet at the Art Institute of Chicago, Galleries 124–127, through Sunday, June 2, 2013.

Other credits for A la Pintura include:

Written by Rafael Alberti (Spanish, 1902–1999) and translated by Ben Belitt (American, 1911–2003). Printed by Donn Steward (American, 1921–1986); typography by Juda Rosenberg and Esther Pullman. Published by Universal Limited Art Editions (American, founded 1955).
A la Pintura is a book/portfolio of loose-leaf prints by painter Robert Motherwell, which combines and contrasts the linear expression of typography with painterly emotionality. “A la Pintura” comprises sensitive graphic images thoughtfully printed on the rag paper surface. The impact is shared with an equally masterful orchestration of positive and negative space for the effect of an epically dimensional composition.

In writing about this piece Judith Goldman comments:
A la Pintura, illustrating Rafael Alberti’s cycle of poems in homage to painting is Motherwell’s major graphic work. The grand book’s brilliance stems from the visual and literary collaboration and from a more essential one between the painter and bookman. In A la Pintura, the sensibility of the painter, editor, translator and man who knows type, work together. Motherwell designed the book, laid out the type, and determined the placement of each image on the unlikely sized, hand-torn loose sheets of J. B. Green paper. He had the original Spanish verse printed in color, keyed the poem’s subject (the English translation appears in black) to unite word and image. Alberti’s poem travels a gallery of art and colors and evokes in words what Valázquez, Brueghel and Bosch [and others] could only say with paint. (1)

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Red – from A la Pintura, 1971, published 1972
Color aquatint and lift-ground etching from two copper plates, with letterpress, on white wove paper
140 x 254 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 93 artist's proof; Sparks 27 artist's proof

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
To the Paintbrush – from A la Pintura, 1969, published in 1972
Color soft-ground etching with aquatint from one copper plate, with letterpress, on white wove paper
254 x 406 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 101 artist's proof; Sparks 35 artist's proof

For further insight this text is from the The Artist and the Poet exhibition label:
According to John McKendry, former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, if nothing else survived of Robert Motherwell’s oeuvre save his A la Pintura, he “would still be seen as a major artist of the twentieth century.” Motherwell’s book of 24 unbound pages, with 21 mixed intaglio prints, “illuminates the poetry” of Raphael Alberti. After Robert Motherwell discovered Ben Belitt’s translation of Raphael Alberti’s A la Pintura (On Painting), Motherwell recalled, “I had found the text for a livre d’artiste, a text whose every line set into motion my innermost painterly feelings. . . . This poetry is made for painters, and this livre was made for the poetry. I meant the two to be wedded, as in a medieval psalter, but with my own sense of the modern.” Just as Motherwell was inspired by poetry, Alberti found constant source material in the visual arts. A la Pintura was his homage to the collection of master paintings in the Prado Museum in Madrid and was dedicated to his friend and fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso. (2)
  1. Goldman, Judith. American Prints: Process & Proofs. First ed. New York: Whitney Museum of Art / Harper & Row, 1981. 114-23. Print.
  2. Collections: About This Artwork. Art Institute of Chicago, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. 

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