Richard Sloat
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Art Times, Vol. 14 No. 7, March 1998
New York Centennial Exhibition at The Old Print Shop
by Raymond J. Steiner

Itself 100 years old this year, The Old Print Shop of New York City is hosting a print exhibit of sixteen contemporary New York-based artists in celebration of both its own and of New York City's Centennial. The exhibit -- some 16 prints which will also be made available in a limited-edition Portfolio -- is a potpourri of New York City motifs with at least two images from each of the five Boroughs that make up the Big Apple. From harbor, to skyscraper, to street -- from the City at night to the City during the day -- from bird's eye vistas that take in large sweeps of the urban landscape to close-ups of individual blocks or buildings -- the exhibition serves as a veritable tour of the City, a tour that offers the grandeur of its size as well as an intimate look at the individual neighborhoods which make it up.

As varied as are the images, so also are the styles and print mediums included in the show. Etchings, aquatints, lithographs, woodcuts, engravings, linocuts, linoleum cuts -- and combinations thereof -- comprise the exhibit and a range of styles -- from realist to expressionist to semi-abstraction -- make for a varied and visually engaging experience. As if further variation were needed in an already engrossing exhibit, the combination of black-and-white print alongside colored etchings and two- or multi-colored prints adds a zest that delights the eye.

For those not familiar with the explosion of techniques now available to the print-maker, this exhibit may prove to be somewhat of a revelation. No longer is the "print" limited to a detailed, meticulously lined rendition in black and white of a given scene or motif such as those one might remember from childhood. Today, not only is there a wide variety of grounds upon which the print-maker may put his image, but a range of colors, inks, presses and techniques at his disposal with which the artist may solve his aesthetic problem. The wide range of "solutions" to these problems are readily evident in the exhibit. Realists -- of which there are many since the show is, after all, a celebration of the greatest urban center in the world -- have as many avenues of expression as they have the talents and expertise to pursue them.

From the straight-forward realism of Bill Murphy's "Tompkinsville Backyards" to the dreamy, soft-edge pastoral of Richard Pantell's "Summer Twilight" to the surreal nightscape, "Bronx Nocturne," by William Behnken -- we see "realism" as interpreted by very different eyes. Or, again, take Karen Whitman's boldly-colored "Hot Lunch" and contrast it with the subdued pastel-hues of Linda Adato's "Venus in Flushing." Whereas Whitman's strong statement captures the local color of a city street-corner, Adato's, in its quiet understatement, transposes a prepossessing movie-house facade into a monumental totem. And, though both use hard-edge draftsmanship and color to delineate their subjects, the subtle differences in the final prints of etching and linocut by Michael Arike and Emily Trueblood, "Junction Boulevard, Queens" and "Night Towers at Union Square," respectively, reveal the endless possibilities open to the print-maker.

Of even greater contrast is the juxtaposition of the three woodcuts by Su-Li Hung ("Chatham Square"), Nick Sperakis ("Old Hasidic Man in Front of the Williamsburg Bridge, Williamsburg, Brooklyn"), and Peter Gourfain ("'A' Train") -- the same technique but a range of style that embraces abstractionism, realism, and expressionism. Prints by Richard Haas, Robert Conover and Joseph Essig round out the realist fare with their "View of Woolworth Building from World Trade Center", "7th Ave. and 47th Street" and "Southside Embrace".

Lastly, one must mention the work of the three final print-makers, Richard Sloat, Michael DiCerbo and Mark Freeman -- three works that stand somewhat alone in their break from the realist tradition. Freeman's "Fire Escapes, NY" is for all intents and purposes a pure abstraction, the right-angle geometrics of fire escapes against a city background an almost ominous depiction of a city cold, steely, aloof and, in spite of the liberal use of blood-red, a city without warmth; Sloat's nervous arabesques in "Harbor Flow" give a sense of continual motion and clutter -- an apt metaphor for city experience; and, finally, DiCerbo's "Fluresce II," with its vertiginous perspective, offers a view of a canyon-like city full of light but seemingly empty of people.

Both for its multi-faceted view of New York City and for its celebration of the print in all its guises, this is a show well worth your time.

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