One of my current projects is a large-scale exhibition focused on twentieth-century intaglio printmaker Stanley William Hayter (English, 1901-1988) and his print workshop called the Atelier 17. The exhibition is scheduled to be on view at the BMA in the winter/spring of 2018. Several artworks slated for inclusion in the Hayter exhibition would have been great fits for New Arrivals: Gifts of Art for a New Century (February 7 – May 8, 2016)—an exhibition highlighting recent gifts to the Museum paired with objects already in the collection—but issues of light exposure prevent inclusion in both projects. In the spirit of pairings that are not in New Arrivals, we want to highlight a few favorites.
Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17 was a nexus of printmaking in its three iterations. It was founded in Paris in 1927 and remained there until Hayter fled German-occupied Paris in 1939. Hayter set up the workshop in New York City by 1940 where it flourished until 1955. By 1950 Hayter returned to Paris, leaving the New York shop in the hands of several directors, and reopened a branch of the Atelier there, where it still exists today as the Atelier Contrepoint some 27 years after Hayter’s death. Between 1926 and now, thousands of printmakers have worked at the studio and many in turn have founded university printmaking departments and print workshops across the United States, and around the world. Members of the Hayter artistic family tree are everywhere.**
The Atelier 17 is remarkable for three technical advances in intaglio printmaking. Hayter revived the arcane art form of copper engraving, formerly used as a formulaic means of reproducing paintings by famous artists, and used it to express deep emotions in swirling, taut lines. The studio developed a technique called softground etching in which fabrics, netting, paper, and other objects are pressed into a soft, waxy ground on the copper plate, leaving behind their texture that gets etched into the copper producing interesting tones and patterns. Lastly, Hayter and a group of artists developed a method of printing in colors using a single plate (traditional color etchings require a separate copper plate for each color) called simultaneous color printing or multi-viscosity printing.
Whereas some artists adopted simultaneous color printing as their own, or the use of fabrics pressed into softground to create textures, others embraced Hayter’s first love, engraving. Evan Lindquist is a contemporary artist using engraving as his medium of choice. His tie to Hayter is through Lindquist’s graduate studies at the University of Iowa, where Mauricio Lasansky had founded the printmaking department in the late 1940s (Lasansky worked with Hayter at the New York Atelier 17 in the early 1940s). Lindquist has created a series of elegantly engraved portraits of art history’s well-known engravers like Martin Schongauer, Albrecht Dürer, Hendrik Goltzius, William Blake, Hayter, and others. In his engraving, SW Hayter Engraves War, Lindquist portrays Hayter as an intense, powerful figure out of whose burin (his engraving tool) come motifs referring to the Spanish Civil War.
That Lindquist portrays this titan of printmaking creating a print in support of victims of a crazy war, and not as a teacher, is telling. Hayter and a group of artists created two portfolios, Solidarity (1938) and Fraternity (1939), that were fundraisers for the child victims of the Spanish Civil War. The Museum is fortunate to have the complete portfolio of Fraternity, which contains prints by Hayter along with John Buckland Wright, Dalla Husband, Josef Hecht, Wassily Kandinsky, Roderick Mead, Joan Miró, Dolf Reiser, and Luis Vargas. In Hayter’s plate, a nude male stands at a doorway while an airplane flies overhead. One can’t help but think of Guernica, the small Spanish village that was bombed in April 1937, killing vast numbers of civilian men, women, and children.
Occurrences like Guernica motivated many artists to create work in protest, mostly famously Picasso, and Hayter was no different. He was a passionate humanist who used art to express his profound discomfort with the darkness that befell humanity during the first half of the twentieth century. That the symbols and marks of the war are spitting out vigorously from Hayter’s burin in Lindquist’s portrait is a perfect homage.
**As part of the BMA’s exhibition, we are creating an online Hayter family tree. Artists will be encouraged to trace their connection back to Hayter, add themselves to the lineage, and establish their “H” number.