Full Spectrum, the exhibit of prints from the Brandywine Workshop that opened this month at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, shows off one of those little-sung organizations that quietly do amazing work here in Philadelphia.
Here’s a bit of history–The Brandywine Workshop, founded in Philadelphia in 1972 to encourage and support racial and cultural diversity in printmaking, gifted 100 of its prints representing 89 artists to the PMA three years ago in memory of Anne d’Harnoncourt. The workshop, founded by African-American Tyler-trained artist Alan Edmunds, has stayed true to that mission, working with artists from around the world and from the cultural and racial spectrum, from Edgar Heap of Birds to Joyce de Guatemala, from Willie Birch to South African artist Vuyile Voyiya, and from Philadelphia artists Moe Brooker to Mei-Ling Hom. The exhibit includes a selection of 54 of the 100 prints.
True to the history of printmaking, some of the work is political, social and exhortatory. Heap of Birds, who does not mince words in his political print about stereotyping of Native Americans, mixes a personal symbol of magpies, a Hitchcockian barrage of birds based on his native name, into a broad political statement in black and white, a sort of Wanted poster gunning for simplistic thinking.
The beaded black bust of Rodney Ewing’s My Country Needs Me, amid blue and white stripes, turns the military appeal of Uncle Sam Wants You posters into a portrait of Dr. Hortense Spillers, an influential literary and feminist theorist who interprets literature from a black and feminist perspective. Without text, Elizabeth Grajales’ Watching transcends its basic green message to suggest a kachina and multiple centuries of multiple kinds of loss–natural and cultural.
I especially liked the colorful works that draw on popular illustrations, like Camille Billops’ The KKK Boutique, or Barkley Hendricks’ Sacrifice of the Watermelon Virgin or Shirt Off Her Back, and Leo Limon’s ebullient L.A. Greenhouse Premiere, which merges cactus with cityscape with a feather-headdressed Native American on the run in white tie and tails. The three combine retro stylishness laced with content.
Joyce De Guatemala’s gorgeous constructed paper print of sinuous Inca symbols against a transcendent blue sky won me over on visual splash alone, as did Nannette Acker Clark’s fabric-like landscape, also a paper construction. John Dowell’s ultra-sexy landscape controls its orgasmic center with a valentine heart framework, and John Bigger’s virtuoso triptych, with hair picks forming a rhythmic backdrop for exotic architecture and beasts, serves as a terrific formalist contrast to Willie Birch’s vibrant street scene, Promise Land.
A number of Philadelphia artists contributed work, including Isaiah Zagar’s vulnerable, fractured self-portrait. At the press opening, PMA Associate Curator of Prints and Drawings Shelley Langdale, the show organizer, said that Brandywine master printmaker Robert W. Franklin died earlier this year, turning the show into a double memorial, in honor of him as well as Anne d’Harnoncourt, in memory of whom the original 100 prints were donated. Franklin clearly deserves major credit, along with Allen and James Hughes for the consistent vision and vivid colors that make these prints for the most part lively and non-academic.
The press opening was an exuberant affair, with a number of the Philadelphia artists attending, including Brooker, Zagar, Dowell and Brandywine founder Edmunds.
The exhibit is accompanied by a catalog, Full Spectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop, which includes plates of all 100 prints included in the Brandywine donation, as well as historic photographs, an essay by Ruth Fine, and contributions by Edmonds and Langdale.
A good bit of programing accompanies the exhibit, including talks and satellite related shows at Brandywine Workshop and Taller Puertorriqueno. Some things I could not find on these websites that set off my gotta-see-this bells are a small show of recent prints made at Brandywine, including work by Texas artist Robert Pruitt, and print workshops there by Danny Alvarez. Alvarez will also be honored at Taller. [This info is a correction of previous info]. Contact the organizations for more information.
Full Spectrum runs to Nov. 25, 2012 in the Honickman and Berman Galleries on the first floor.