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. Hayter’s print workshop was a hotbed of collaboration and experimentation; it was his goal that artists would work together toward new discoveries. He downplayed his role as teacher and mentor, although it is clear that the workshop’s success owed a tremendous amount to his personal charisma. When a new artist arrived at the studio Hayter would put them through their paces before allowing them free access to the equipment. One of the first things was to accomplish a plate of burin studies. Given a copper plate, the nouveau would be instructed to make marks without regard to a planned image. This was a chance to become familiar with the technique and process. Hayter encouraged students to free their minds of preconceived imagery and just let the burin go where it might until they had become fully comfortable making marks. Because engraving is a difficult means of making an image—one pushes a diamond-shaped tool through the copper or zinc to create divets that will carry ink—it is important that one is at ease with it prior to investing time and energy in a large print.
Hayter, himself, engraved several of these sorts of studies, including the BMA’s sheet from 1943. In it graceful lines loop and intersect, barely indicating concrete forms. It really was supposed to be a freeform exercise tapping into one’s subconscious. He even advocated for creating engraved lines by feel rather than by sight. These ideas can be linked to Hayter’s interest in the surrealist practice of automatic drawing, in which one’s subconscious should be accessed thus producing stronger work.
Hayter was active at the Atelier until the end of his life in 1988, meaning scores of artists can claim some time with the master. One such artist is the master printer James Stroud, whose print shop, Center Street Studio, operates outside of Boston. In between his BFA and his MFA, Stroud studied with Hayter at the Atelier in Paris from 1980 to 1981. Stroud’s studies fill the plate as swirling lines that intersect over geometric forms in an orderly yet chaotic way. Stroud reported coming across the plate in his studio in 2014, many years after he engraved it. For fun, he printed a handful of impressions and liked the result. Knowing about the BMA’s upcoming Hayter exhibition, Stroud kindly offered an impression to the Museum, for which we are grateful.