Black and white prism

As contemporary art becomes increasingly improvisational; traditional media such as the engraving, the etching, teh drypoint, seem archaic in comparison and tend to generate little interest except among connoisseurs. One still associates engraving with Durer, etching with Rembrandt, and is hard pressed to think of a contemporary with the dexterity, craftsmanship, and patience of the Old Masters.

Arman Landeck may not be their peer but he is certainly a worthy heir. Landeck was born in Wisconsin and attended the Columbia School of Architecture. He was a cofounder of the School for Print Makers in 1934 and studied under Stanley William Hayter. He has devoted his life to printmaking, and even the most cursory glance at his oeuvre,m from the 1930s through the present, discloses a perfectionist's striving toward the apogee of the medium.

"Stairhall," is one of Landeck's transitional works. A drypoint dated 1950, it combines the frankly architectonic concerns of his earlier work, and the fascination with the interplay of light and shadow that dominates his later work. "Stairhall" consists of an infinite number of lines with infinite gradations of breadth and value. This intricate web of filaments seems more the work of a herculean spider than a mere mortal, and it is almost impossible to imagine how one man could conceive such a grand design and execute it with such elaborate detail.

The key to Landeck's composition is light. Light infuses the work with its energy and glows like a mythic force. It transforms every object that it touches and alters relationships between them. This remarkable drypoint is a lesson in itself about relativity, and one can readily grasp that the same scene with one light bulb more or less would look entirely different. The light literally reconstructs the room, fractures it into abstract geometrical and architectural comonents much as a cubist painter or scientist reduces an object to its basic structure.

The light here and in Landeck's other prints also functions on a mystical level as a beacon, a foil against the darkness, but the irony is that light is also the alter ego of darkness -- each is the sine qua nonm of the other, and together they are locked in an eternal dialectical embrace.The closeness of their relationship is made even more vivid by the fact that the black lines represent the radiation of light rather than the white patches in between, resulting in a negative image of its flow that is actually more "real" than our own illusory perception. This impression is further reinforced by the suggested relationship between the objects and their shadows -- for example, the shadow of the stair rail seems as palpable as the stair rail itself.

Finally, this drypoint illustrates another major characteristic of Landeck's art related to light: tunnel vision. Landeck's almost invariably depicts a narrow, claustrophobic, womblike, tomblike space, whether underground or on a city street or a stair hall, and casts into it just enough light to lead the viewer out of the darkness and into the illuminated maze of the imagination.

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