Hotbed of Art Innovation

Gallery show highlights workshop at University of South Florida

WALKING into the Graphicstudio show at the National Gallery of Art is like walking into a visual version of "Who's Who" in contemporary art.There's a Robert Rauschenberg photograph, "Chinese Wall," rioting from one wall to another for 100 feet; a Chuck Close portrait slightly smaller than the Jolly Green Giant; a muscled Robert Mapplethorpe nude photo bathed in red light; a Roy Lichtenstein "brushstroke chair" which you can actually sit on, as he does; a Nancy Graves fantasy sculpture more complicated than the Aeneid; and a Jim Dine signature heart as big as all outdoors. The Graphicstudio exhibition of 90 prints, sculptures, and photographs highlights the product of the collaborative workshop founded at the University of South Florida (USF) in 1968 by artist Donald Saff. He describes it as "a yeasty environment: things happened, scale happened, work was profuse, place was talked about...." He says that artists lined up to come to Florida to participate, and a continuing dialogue took place between artists and students. The show, which runs through Jan. 5 in the gallery's West Building, is drawn from the Graphicstudio Archive established at the National Gallery in 1986. Although the Graphicstudio workshop was in hiatus for five years (1976-81) for financial reasons, it came back forcefully and is viewed as one of the foremost workshops involved in original production of fine art editions in the the US. Jim Dine's beautiful blue, yellow, and black heart exemplifies the sort of innovative stretch of creativity and technique that Graphicstudio strives for. Ruth Fine, the show's curator, is also curator of the gallery's modern prints and drawings and author of the catalog with research associate Mary Lee Corlett. There Ms. Fine describes how visiting artist Dine took advantage of the USF studio site, a former observatory. To create his massive "The Heart and the Wall," (a color aquatint and spitbite etching and power tool drypoint in four sections), she says "Dine created the work by painting, or more literally, by sweeping acid onto the copperplates with great freedom, an activity possible indoors only due to the rollback roof of the observatory studio. The fumes would have been deadly otherwise ... the drips, blotches, strokes, scraping, and rubbing in the print invest this heroic icon of Dine's with all the freshness, immediacy and power of his drawings...." Whatever a visiting artist wanted to experiment with, at USF there was a campus full of talented people in chemistry and physics to help make it possible. Those collaborations occurred when Dine wanted to create his lithograph for "The Plant Becomes a Fan," and the five pieces leading up to it; when James Rosenquist was working on his dazzling "Sister Shrieks," an exotic scarlet monogrint and lithograph collage; and when Nancy Graves made her "Canoptic Legerdemain," a work of steel, resin, aluminum, cast paper, epoxy, lithography, and other processes. Ms. Graves, standing next to that work, explains how it evolved: "Certain images I had hoped to use, then we locked heads at Graphicstudio. And we had different people who made different processes available to me. So once I began to respond to that, then some imagery became more concrete. "And as the process began to evolve, it became more specific.... The more they offered, the more the piece focused."

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