2000-04-15 / Columnists

From The Artists Studio

Rockaway Artists Alliance

"Le Restaurant Libanais"--watercolor by RAA’s Christian Le Gars--part of Le Gars’ exhibit at L’acajou Restaurant.
"Le Restaurant Libanais"--watercolor by RAA’s Christian Le Gars--part of Le Gars’ exhibit at L’acajou Restaurant.

By Susan Hartenstein

The Printmaking Workshop has been Robert Blackburn’s life for the last 50 years. The passion with which he speaks of it is that of a father for his child. For Blackburn, the Printmaking Workshop is not a place, it is a philosophy. The workshop has been run according to this philosophy since it was co-founded by this determined man in 1948. An artist’s skills, believes master printmaker Blackburn, are meant to be shared with others and passed on to future generations. Accordingly, artists from around the world and of various disciplines, have flocked to this studio to learn from master printmakers in a stimulating atmosphere of cooperation and generosity, where experimentation is encouraged and a sense of community has been established. In this cooperative atmosphere established by Blackburn, creativity flourishes. Experienced printmakers teach less experienced ones, printers at all skill levels learn from each other. Facilities have been made available to those who might otherwise not have had access to them.

The day I visited the workshop, located at 19 West 24 street in Manhattan, the activity was busy, with ideas and techniques flowing among the artists. Pasha Ouperov, master printmaker from Russia, was showing his photoetching technique to a woman from Jamaica. South African Elizabeth Harington, a longtime teacher at the workshop, was teaching RAA’s Geoff Rawling, from England, how to achieve layers of color in his prints. RAA’s Christian Le Gars, from France, was perfecting his skills in solar plate intaglio printing. Romanian Ana Golici was quietly working on her project. One of the accomplishments of which Blackburn is most proud is that his workshop has served a multi-cultural population. For a nominal fee, one may work and study at this not-for-profit workshop. It has also provided scholarships, demonstrations and an outreach program to New York schoolchildren. Foreign artists have studied here and brought these techniques and philosophies back to their countries. Some have also returned to teach in the workshop.

Looking towards the future, the Printmaking Workshop is exploring a partnership with an established university, art institution or foundation that will provide financial assistance as well as exposure and study of the workshop’s enormous collection of prints, and of the techniques that created them. Thus the legacy of Robert Blackburn can be preserved. The timeless underlying philosophy of this invaluable artists’ resource can be passed on for even more generations to come.

RAA watercolorist Christian Le Gars has of late brought his unique vision and considerable talent to the art of printmaking through his study at the Printmaking Workshop. Le Gars’ work has been chosen to be included in the Workshop’s prestigious print collection. A fine show of his prints and paintings are to be seen through April 29 at the French bistro L’acajou, 53 West 19 street in Manhattan.

At first glance at his watercolors, one might think that Le Gars’ style is realism. However, with closer examination the viewer realizes that the paintings explore the relationships and balance between almost abstract shapes and between those shapes and the spaces around them. The works play with the rhythms and dances of these elements and of dark and light. His prints are an even purer distillation of Le Gars’ impulse to reduce the visual to its essentials—to tell the whole story in simplified terms.

Many of the pieces capture the unique feel and lighting of a city at night. In the marvelous "La nuit Americaine", Le Gars uses a tilted perspective and the tension between vibrantly dark silhouette and brightly colored city lights to express the jauntiness and excitement of that McDonald’s on Broadway. Silhouette is an element Le Gars often employs. Reduced to only the essential lights and darks and a few abstract shapes, the print "Le bungalow des Artistes" expresses the wildness and energy of the magical place where several artist friends meet once a week. Included in this exhibit are four prints based on the marvelous prints Le Gars exhibited in the Brooklyn Watercolor Society show about which I wrote earlier this year.

Danny Kohn, one of the co-owners of L’acajou, enjoys presenting the works of a different artist about four or five times a year for a month each. He says it changes the feel of the restaurant each time and gives him a chance to live with the artwork for more than just an afternoon’s visit to a gallery. Join Danny and explore the ambiance of this fine French bistro while you view, at your leisure, the beautiful work of Christian Le Gars.

Submission dates for works to be juried for inclusion in the RAA exhibit at Starbuck’s in Howard Beach are April 28 from 7:30 to 8:00 p.m. and April 29 from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in sTudio-6 (building T-6) in Fort Tilden. The exhibit is to run from May 1 through May 28, culminating in an outdoor show May 27 and 28, Memorial Day weekend. Pieces are to be framed and ready for hanging by wire, well secured across the back. Further details will be included in next week’s column.

Enjoy. See you here next week.


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