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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.

  • Thursday, July 17, 2014

    Eric Avery

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. 1984/AIDS, 1990. Woodcut printed in black on Mexican wrapping paper. Purchased with the gift of Sue Reed, class of 1958. SC2014:3-21

    I first became aware of Eric Avery’s work through curator/collector David Becker. Avery is an accomplished graphic artist as well as physician (who retired from active practice in 2012), who has created a wide- ranging body of work, including prints, artist’s books, sculpture, and installations, on the subject of public health and infectious diseases. As a print collector and queer activist, David was particularly interested in Eric’s graphics related to HIV/AIDS. AIDS 1984, a striking woodcut which David donated to the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in 1994, was my introduction to Avery’s powerful and personal take on the subject.

    In 1984, as the death toll from AIDS rose, Avery created this image inspired by a 16th century woodcut plague poster in the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He did not cut or print the block until 1990. One edition of the image was printed on a cheap rose-printed Mexican wrapping paper that fades easily; an apt metaphor for the fleeting nature of life (image above).

    Eric Avery shows his prints Blood Test (1985) and Four Forms of Childhood Abuse (2008) 
    to curator Aprile Gallant

    When the Bowdoin College Museum of Art staged an exhibition of David’s extraordinary bequest in the fall of 2012, I was invited to speak on some aspect of his collection at a weekend symposium. I was delighted to seeAIDS 1984on the checklist, and even happier to be able to meet Eric at the event.

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Paradise Lost, 2011. Linocut printed in three colors on Okawara paper with polymer plate text printed in brown. Purchased through the efforts of students in the class “Collecting 101,” January 2012. SC2012:14

    Coincidentally, Avery’s print Paradise Lost (2011) had recently been selected for purchase as part of the SCMA-led course “Collecting 101” held in January 2012. This 2-credit class allowed students to directly participate in researching and purchasing a work on paper for the collection. The students were drawn to Avery’s work for its melding of art historical imagery with didactic information on public health, listing the infectious diseases brought about by humankind’s interactions with animals, including HIV/AIDS.

    Recognizing the wide ranging interdisciplinary use of these works, SCMA and the Mortimer Rare Book Room banded together to became the first collections to acquire a full set of Avery’s prints and artist’s books on the subject of HIV/AIDS. The collection includes 27 printed works (some multi-panel) and 8 artist’s books.

    As work that investigates and bridges science and the humanities, the Avery collection presents rich opportunities for use by classes and especially for interdisciplinary teaching. The AIDS crisis is a prime example of a historical force that raised crucial issues related to a key civil liberty: the maintenance of public health and access to health care. It is also an issue that mobilized a broad range of activist artists, including Eric Avery. 

    Avery received a Bachelor’s of Arts from the University of Arizona (1970) and an M.D. from The University of Texas, Galveston (1974). After a residency at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital in New York City, Dr. Avery was a physician for World Vision, working with refugees in Indonesia and Somalia from 1978-1980. While serving as Medical Director of the La Dhure Refugee Camp in Somalia, he began to make art that drew directly on his experiences with disease and issues of public health.

    Avery returned to the U.S. at exactly the time that the first case of AIDS in the U.S. was recognized and reported to the Center for Disease Control. Over the next three years, the disease was increasingly reported among the homosexual population, and sickness and death rose precipitously in the gay community. As an artist, physician, and gay man, Avery was at the center both personally and professionally.  In contrast with artists such as David Wojnarowicz or Gran Fury, whose artwork took a more aggressive and propagandistic slant, Avery’s approach straddles the lines between the personal, the clinical, and the aesthetic.

    Suffering from exhaustion, Avery did not practice medicine between 1980 and 1992, choosing instead to volunteer as a refugee coordinator for Amnesty International and create artwork centered on the experiences of refugees at the Mexican/Texas border. The artworks he created on the subject of AIDS during this time period focused on his personal experience with the disease: the first work,Blood Test(1985), a powerful, over life-sized cast paper woodcut of the artist’s arm, was executed during the two-week waiting period after his first HIV test, during the same year the first HIV antibody tests were made available.

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Blood Test, 1985. Molded paper woodcut printed in black on handmade paper. Purchased with the gift of Sue Reed, class of 1958. SC2014:3-3

    In 1992, Avery returned to medicine, joining the Psychiatry Department and the Institute for Medical Humanities at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. Avery worked primarily with AIDS patients and transgendered people, in addition to creating art projects that engaged issues related to AIDS and to public health more broadly.

    One of the most innovative parts of Avery’s practice was a series of Art/Medicine events staged during the 1990s. In 1994 he created an immersive installation,The Stuff of Life,at the Mary Ryan Gallery in New York. Surrounded by printed wall paper based on the artist’s own blood smear and hung with cast paper representations of the HIV virus, Avery and other doctors performed HIV blood tests on a number of volunteers (one of whom was David Becker).

    Installation view of The Stuff of Life installed in the artist's Galveston studio, 1993

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. The Stuff of Life, 1993 (wallpaper component from installation The Stuff of Life). Linocut and monoprint printed in color on Okawara paper. Purchased. SC2014:3-15

    In 1997, to mark World AIDS Day, a similar installation was hosted by the Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, during which HIV+ patients received counseling and services, and additional testing was administered within a designed space within the Museum.  By this time, treatment for AIDS had vastly improved, making testing and counseling even more important. Components from both of these “art actions” are included in the work acquired by SCMA.

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Fogg Exhibition Poster: World AIDS Day, 1997. Two-color woodcut on Mulberry paper. Purchased with the gift of Sue Reed, class of 1958. SC2014:3-12

    Installation view of Art as Medicine/Medicine Art, Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, 1997

    Eric Avery. American, born 1948. Lifecycle of HIV Showing Sites of Actions of Medications (wallpaper component from the installation Art as Medicine/Medicine Art). Linocut printed I black on Okawara paper. Purchased. SC2014:3-16

    SCMA is pleased to have acquired such a cohesive and important body of work that documents three decades in the life of a major public health crisis through the eyes of an artist capable of seeing, understanding, and translating the issue from multiple perspectives. An installation of the works from this purchase is planned for Fall 2015. All of these works are available for viewing in the Cunningham Center by appointment.

    For more information on Eric Avery and his work, visit www.docart.com

    Comments

    Greg Tucker - 28/04/2016

    Eric Avery's art

    I'm an artist (with agitated depression) who earned a living as an artist, am now retired (and still working, of course) and am an admirer of Eric's art — and own 2 prints. I am already the owner of two of your prints, which you did at Tamarind, and love them. I'm retired now, have a good bit of art already, though, having always been on a tight budget was never a top-dollar collector, , but like to get the occasional new piece. It'd be interesting to talk with any other admirers, artists, collectors, mental health people, etc. See my FB page. Greg Tucker tuckerillustration@earthlink.net or 505-873-3727

    Steven Rios - 17/06/2015

    Eric Avery

    Nice to know about him.

    Julie Mellby - 02/08/2014

    Eric Avery

    This is a wonderful post about a wonderful artist! It has made me rethink art that I thought I already knew. thanks so much for writing this.

    Annie De Groot MD - 26/07/2014

    Proud Smith Alum with Extensive Eric Avery collection

    Hello!

    I have an extensive Eric Avery collection.

    I'd be happy to share it with Smith if ever you feature his work in the museum.

    Thanks!

    Jane Petro - 24/07/2014

    Eric Avery

    Thanks for the excellent overview of Dr. Avery's work. I have myself been an avid collector and his work to me represents the best that art and medicine can offer. He connects historical imagery with contemporary events in the best tradition of creative arts, and offers a view of medical practice, both it's irony and it's splendor, that is unique and powerful.

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  • Wednesday, July 9, 2014

    Low and Slow

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Carlos Archuleta, Espanola, '66 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-5

    In 1950s southern California, Mexican-Americans began to lower the suspension in their cars, bringing the vehicles closer to the ground. Unlike “hot-rodders” who customized for speed, their motto was “low and slow,” creating custom cars with personalized decoration with which they could cruise through the city streets. These vehicles, and the men who drove them, became known as “lowriders.”

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Paul, Annabelle, and Paula Medina, Chimayo, '68 Chevy Impala from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-2

    As lowrider culture flourished in the 1960s and 1970s, it became more than a shared interest, and grew to encompass a sense of belonging to Mexican-American communities. During periods of segregation and racial discrimination, lowrider clubs proudly displayed their pride in their Latina/o heritage. Catholic imagery, airbrushed portraits of family and girlfriends, and personal designs all reveal what was important to the community, and to the individual artists. Los Unidos, one lowrider club, (pictured below) took on the virgin of Guadalupe as their logo.

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Sammy Martinez and Los Unidos - Franke Maestas and Vangie Martinez, Leroy Martinez, Rob Garcia, Delfino Martinez, and Donaldo Valdez - Espanola '68 T-Bird, '66 Chevy Caprice, '70 Supersport, '56 Chevy, '62 Chevy, '49 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-12

    It is this sense of community that Meridel Rubenstein captures in her photography series, The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico. In 1980, she took shots of drivers posed next to their brightly painted vintage cars. In her words, "These cars... are directly descended from a great tradition of Hispanic crafts. The outside of the car must be flamantito or clean. This means they must be perfectly spotless and waxed, and beautifully painted with either metal flake or pearl paint, pin-striped or lacquered with a mural and often a message."

    When David Jaramillo died in a car accident, his brothers took on the vintage car that he had been in the process of customizing, and spent thousands finishing the work he had started. The work, titled Dave's Dream, is a '60 Ford LTD with an image of Dave and his family. In Rubenstein's photograph, his widow and young son sit against the car, a testament to his memory and to family.

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Irene Jaramillo, San Juan Pueblo, '60 Ford LTD from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-3

    The women pictured in Rubenstein's portfolio are not pin-up girls in revealing outfits, but owners and partners in this culture. Particularly striking is Peggy Martinez with her '64 Chevy Two-Tone (pictured below). She sits in the driver’s seat, her head resting on her arms, looking straight at the viewer. Her gaze placid and proud.

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Peggy Martinez, Santa Cruz, '64 Chevy Two-Tone from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-6

    It’s this pride that permeates every image of “The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980.” Its clear that Rubenstein recognizes that the owners of these vehicles are artists in their own right, and she honors their work.

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Bennino Martinez, Chimayo, '64 Chevy from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-11

    Meridel Rubenstein, American b. 1948. Delano Whitney, Albuquerque, ' 70 Olds Cutlass from The Lowriders: Portraits from New Mexico, 1980. Ektacolor 74 print debossed on T. H. Saunders 100 percent rag paper. Purchased with the Madeleine H. Russell, class of 1937, Fund. Photography by Petegorsky/Gipe.  SC 2005:1-10

    Comments

  • Thursday, June 19, 2014

    Reinstall, Revive!

    The Museum Reinstallation & Reinterpretation Project is in full swing! Those of us in the prints room have been getting ready for even more change: we moved everything out of the way for our floors to be refinished. Here's a rare look into an empty Cunningham Center.

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