Masters of art

Famous names (and their prints) on display in the latest James Snidle exhibit

SHOW AND TELL<br>Dean Willson explains the technique of 20th-century pop artist Wayne Thiebaud.

Dean Willson explains the technique of 20th-century pop artist Wayne Thiebaud.

Photo By Andrew Boost

A color engraving by one James McNeill Whistler hangs on the wall just inside the entrance to the main room of the current exhibit—dubbed the Old Masters Show—at James Snidle’s East Fourth Street gallery housed in a charming old house. In the picture, an adult figure is seated in a familiar pose—in profile on the right-hand side of the painting gazing off to the left.

No, it’s not “Arrangement in Grey and Black: The Artist’s Mother"—or “Whistler’s Mother,” as that famous painting is more commonly known. The seated figure with cane in hand, and hat and coat on knee, is a man—19th-century Scottish poet Thomas Carlyle, to be exact.

“It should be called ‘Whistler’s Father,’ “ gallery manager Dean Willson joked about the print, which is actually titled “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2.”

The cheery and knowledgeable Willson is more than happy to assist gallery-goers on their journey through the 60-plus original prints from collector and appraiser James Snidle’s collection. Works by well-known artists—both dead and living—such as Paul Cezanne, Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí, M. C. Escher, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and David Hockney are hanging on the gallery’s walls and stacked for quiet examination on a front-window table.

Willson—a painter himself who regularly accompanies Paradise artist Lois Cohen on painting outings—is available for comment, or for running commentary, if one has a question about a particular work or artist. (The very talented Cohen is also represented in this show; the etching plate alone for her “Leda and the Swan” is lovely to look at.)

I took advantage of Willson’s willing availability and opted for an ongoing conversation.

James McNeill Whistlers’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 2.”

Photo By Andrew Boost

Standing before a large black-and-white etching on an easel, by 20th-century American pop artist Wayne Thiebaud, I learned from Willson that Thiebaud’s print was made using the aquatint technique in which acid (and acid-resistant powdered resin) is applied strategically to the metal printing plate, resulting in gradations of tonality as opposed to stark black-on-white lines.

“He’s able to produce all the depths of tone with one plate [versus the two or more plates an artist would use to make a color etching], which is phenomenal,” Willson explained enthusiastically of the technique.

I learned about the “registry” of a print—or the way the different layers of color line up—as Willson and I stood studying a beautiful color etching of a New York City street scene by the late Austrian etcher and painter Luigi Kasimir. Kasimir was one of the first artists to develop the technique of using multiple plates to create color etchings.

“You can have linocut, screen print and etching together in one piece,” Willson informed me as we looked at an interesting Dalí piece.

In the kitchen of the gallery, works by Americans David Gilhooly (a student of Thiebaud’s), the recently deceased Larry Rivers, and printmaking heavy-hitter Robert Rauschenberg hang on the pleasantly cluttered walls.

Willson educated me on the “litho stone,” a sizeable old slab of thick limestone sitting on the floor with an ad for Navy Chewing Tobacco etched into it in reverse, which is one of the older forms of printing.

He saved a little serious gushing for the collection’s several prints by World War II-era German expressionist painter/printmaker (and pacifist) Käthe Kollwitz, whose emotionally-charged prints are in the obvious minority in this show’s sea of work by men.

“Look, her work is so strong!” Willson exclaimed, summoning me with his eyes as he marveled over a customarily-dark, bold Kollwitz print of people angrily tearing up the cobblestones from a German street.

I had to agree. It’s beautiful.