Hartigan art mustn't be missed

December 07, 1990|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

Hartigan Prints When: Tuesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday evenings until 7 p.m., Saturdays and Sundays 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., through Feb. 24.

Where: The Baltimore Museum of Art, Art Museum Drive near Charles and 31st streets.

Call: 396-7101.

Grace Hartigan has said that printmaking was not a method she was inspired to use on her own; she made prints when urged by others, primarily Tatyana Grosman of Universal Limited Art Editions. She never really took to it, however.

That's a pity for two reasons: First, prints, being multiples, are less expensive and more widely distributed than unique works -- they can increase an artist's collecting public. Second, as the BMA's "Grace Hartigan: The Complete Prints" demonstrates, so many of Hartigan's strengths are amply communicated through her prints, and in particular through her lithographs.

Her vitality and dynamism, her willingness to experiment, the richness of tones and subtlety of shadings, the emotional content of her work and its combination of abstraction rooted in reality are all in evidence.

The exhibit includes more than two dozen prints, all that she has produced so far. During the 1950s, she created a number of silk screens for a short-lived art and literary journal called "Folder," and in 1960 she produced five more silk screens for "Salute," a book collaboration with writer James Schuyler.

The same year she produced her first lithographs for Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), four black-and-white works inspired her friend Barbara Guest's poem "The Hero Leaves His Ship." The spontaneity of these is evident not only in their energy but in the splatters and fingerprints that add to their immediacy.

In 1961, after moving to Baltimore, she made her first color lithograph, "Pallas Athena," working with a BMA press. The museum's record of this venture, including one of the stones used and five demonstration proofs showing the addition of separate colors, offers a great chance to see a work of art in process.

In the 1960s Hartigan also produced a series of black-and-white lithographs called "The Archaics," and in the late 1980s she worked again with former ULAE printer Robert Blackburn to make four color lithographs, including the delightful, wavy-haired Dolly." In 1984 she produced the etching "Elizabeth Etched," based on a painting of Queen Elizabeth but with a hint of self-portrait.

The museum is also showing, in its modern art galleries, five Hartigan paintings and a collage from the years 1953 to 1976. They shouldn't be missed; with the prints and the current Maryland Institute show of Hartigan work from 1965 to 1989, they offer a rare opportunity to view the career of this fine artist, who has honored Baltimore with her presence for three decades.

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