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Paper + People is a blog about the Smith College Museum of Art’s collection of over 18,000 prints, drawings, and photographs. Here you will find a diverse array of posts written by museum staff, students, scholars, and other paper enthusiasts about anything pertaining to the collection.

Any works you see featured here are available to view by appointment.

  • Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Kin

    “I’m not particularly interested in making paintings. I’m not particularly interested in making drawings or that whole dialogue. But the fact that I’m doing this with my hand, and that it’s a hand-drawn image, is very important to me. I love the act of drawing. Of course I love drawings and paintings. But in my current work I’m mostly interested in the people and the imagery, so that my drawings are more in service to the imagery than being about ‘drawing.’ I do gain a lot personally from examining those old photos. A lot of that comes from my background, and my father having been a self-taught photographer. Most of the earliest imagery that I looked at was of his photographs. He did a lot of family portraits.”

     – Whitfield Lovell [Source]

    Whitfield Lovell. American, b. 1959. Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind), 2008. Conté crayon on paper with  barbed wire. Purchased with the Dorothy C. Miller, class of 1925, Fund. SC 2008:58

    Seeing Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind) in person is so different than seeing it as an image on a computer. I wish I could take you into the Cunningham Center and show you this drawing right now. Since the work is three-dimensional, Lovell encased the entire piece in a black box frame; it takes up a lot of space, projecting out from the wall. When you look at it directly, you’re really looking into a box, and it takes up all your peripheral vision. There’s a sense of being absorbed, or surrounded.

    Shadow suddenly plays a major role when you look at Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind) in person, too. Not only does the box frame create its own shadow on the wall, increasing its physical presence, but it casts a shadow on the drawing of the woman’s face. Likewise, the barbed wire has its own shadow, making it seem larger than it is. On some level, the work changes at every location, based on the lighting in every different gallery.

     

    Detail from Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind)

    There are subtle details that are difficult to make out on a computer screen as well. When you look closely, you can see the light impression of a shirt color, fading into the blank background. Lovell has drawn delicate, light flyaway hairs emerging from the woman’s tightly coiffed hair. These small, meticulous additions speak to Lovell’s incredible skill and attention to detail.

    Detail from Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind)

    Detail from Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind)

    The barbed wire is rusted and old. Lovell doesn’t shy away from loaded symbolism, and so it immediately reminds me of the crown of thorns that biblical tradition says Jesus wore on the cross. Such an association conjures up suffering and sacrifice. In conjunction with her worried expression, the effect is disturbing. Does the barbed wire refer to some earth-shattering event in her life? Is it a reference to her personality somehow? Could it relate to the persistent pain of racism, both historical and present, which she faces as a black woman?

    The title, Kin XXXII (Run Like the Wind), only complicates these ideas. Kin implies connection and relationships, even family. As this work is part of a much larger series, it makes me wonder about the connection between each piece. The statement Run Like the Wind could be a command or a description. Typically, barbed wire is used to prevent people from entering or leaving a place, and it contrasts sharply with the freedom that running implies.

    Like all of Lovell’s works, this piece provokes more questions than it answers. This ambiguity, coupled with the sheer physicality of the work, creates a piece that sticks in your mind long after you see it. 

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  • Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    I Hope You Learned Your Lesson

    William T. Wiley, American, b. 1937. I Hope You Learned Your Lesson, 1974. Intaglio on paper. Purchased. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1975:29-4

    In 1972, Jack Lemon invited artist William T. Wiley to Landfall Press in Chicago, where he was master printer, to collaborate on prints at the workshop. While Wiley was hesitant at first, he accepted the offer, and began to push what he knew about printing. Under the guidance of a master printer, he experimented with new methods, as seen in his work I Hope You Learned Your Lesson.

    Close-up of I Hope You Learned Your Lesson

    With the help of Lemon, Wiley used aquatint, a type of etching in which a powdered acid etches a wide area on a copper plate. After the plate has been run through the printing press, the result is an even tone of ink on the paper. For I Hope You Learned Your Lesson, Wiley used aquatint to create a smooth, black area. He created the appearance of chalk on the board by smoothing parts of the plate. The result, with strong white chalk lines over “erased” writing, creates a trompe l'oeil effect that tricks the eye into believing it is looking at a real chalkboard, not just an image of one.

    Detail of Wiley’s monogram and “erased” version

    The spirited, self-referential elements throughout the piece reveal Wiley’s sense of humor. He makes the frame appear worn, scratched, and covered with graffiti, presumably to mimic the hard use a student’s chalkboard would undergo. He includes the year he printed the piece, 1974, but when the viewer looks closer, the ghostly remnants of an earlier date, 1937, are present: the year he was born. The closer you look, the more there is to see.

    Detail of frame graffiti

    Detail of date and “erased” date

    Although many details are playful, there’s still an edge to this work. The phrase “I Hope You Learned Your Lesson” not only conjures up a boring, uncreative classroom, but also implies the aftermath of punishment. Its ambiguity is troubling, and invites closer contemplation.

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  • Tuesday, August 5, 2014

    Standing Turk

    Jean-Léon Gérôme. French, 1824 - 1904. Standing Turk. Black chalk on light stained off white wove paper. Bequest of Henry L. Seaver. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe. SC 1976:54-9

    Over the course of his career, Jean-Léon Gérôme travelled extensively, with trips to Spain, the Arabian Peninsula, Palestine, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Algeria, Morocco and Spain. The journalist Frédéric Masson, who accompanied the artist on a months-long journey through Egypt and Turkey in 1868, considered Gérôme an energetic companion, writing: “The first to rise in the morning, [Gérôme] superintends the departure; then erect in his saddle, he keeps going through the long hours, smoking, hunting, tracing with a rapid stroke in his sketchbook a monument or a silhouette.”

    Standing Turk is one such travel drawing, presumably from Asia Minor. In it, a Turkish man stands away from the viewer, seemingly unaware of the artist. His jacket hangs rakishly from his shoulders. The work is not a quick sketch, but a full fleshed-out drawing, with careful cross-hatching throughout.

    It was on the basis of such sketches that his contemporaries saw Gérôme as an accurate illustrator of the Middle East, even an “ethnographer” of the region. After all, each revealed a tremendous precision and eye for detail. Likewise, Gérôme admitted to taking photographs and working from those prints, underscoring his reputation for cultural accuracy.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Such precision seems apparent in Standing Turk—in it, Gérôme focuses on the man’s ethnic costume, from his turban to the saber hanging from the man’s waist.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Still, Gérôme still played around with what he saw in his travels to create idealized, and even fantastic, scenes from abroad. During the late nineteenth century, artists and writers embraced their own vision of the Middle East, a fantasy of hashish and proud sultans and harems. This attitude, later called Orientalism, deeply affected the art of the period, including the paintings of Gérôme. There is an element of fantasy in all his works.

    At the time Gérôme drew his Standing Turk, the Ottoman Empire was in flux. In particular, Constantinople (now Istanbul) had welcomed many Western fashions and styles. The photographs of Pascal Sebah, for example, show men in suits and traditional garments alike wandering the streets, much to the chagrin of Orientalist artists, who preferred the unaltered Eastern landscape of their imaginations.

    Detail of Standing Turk

    Would Gérôme have met the model for Standing Turk on the street? By this point in Ottoman history, the fez had nearly replaced the turban as the headgear of choice. While Gérôme may have found an individual in this particular get-up, it would not have been a reflection of what most Turkish men were wearing at the time. Perhaps he even paid a model to pose for him.

    Through such vivid imagery, Gérôme added fodder to his peer’s Orientalist visions. To them, a sketch such as Standing Turk became an irrefutable rendering of what all Turkish men wore. The reality is much more complex.

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