Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Abstract Side of Warrington Colescott

In commemoration of Warrington Colescott's significant achievements in printmaking, I am re-posting this article on his work. R.I.P. 9/14/2018

Warrington Colescott is mostly known as an American printmaker of satirical subjects. His work expresses a vivid imagination, interpreting contemporary and historical events. Yet, in his earlier more abstract phase, his work borders on something reminiscent of the curvilinear figures one finds in the works of Matisse and Cezanne; and the arabesque gestural lines he uses deftly lead the viewer through the composition to see all the lovely, weirdly grotesque and erotic figures we find therein. This article will focus on his earlier work, which shows his homage to Hayter and other well-known artists.

Colescott was born in 1921 to Warrington, Sr. and Lydia Colescott. His parents who were of Louisiana Creole descent moved to Oakland in 1920 where he was born. His younger brother, Robert, is also an artist. Comic strips, vaudeville and the burlesque at Oakland’s Red Mill/Moulin Rouge theater were important influences upon Colescott’s work. He made cartoons and did some writing for both the Pelican and The Daily Californian when he attended University of California at Berkeley.

Colescott studied painting at the University of California, Berkeley, and started to make prints in 1948 while he was teaching at Long Beach City College. He continued to make prints when he moved to Wisconsin to teach at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Alfred Sessler introduced Colescott to etching in the mid-1950s, and Colescott continued to his study of printmaking at London’s famous Slade School of Fine Art.

Colescott gained critical attention in the 1950s, when he was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s 1953 Young American Printmakers exhibition, and exhibits at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1955 and 1956. Critics have compared his graphic and satirical style, to artists like Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, Max Beckmann, and George Grosz.

His early graphic work was more abstract. That work contains some reference to the linear flow of Stanley William Hayter’s work, but his colors are dark and sometimes more tonal than colorfully expressive. By the early 1960s his satirical imagery evolved and he devoted his time to complex color etching, and incorporated bits of letterpress into his compositions. As his work became less abstract and more narrative, this allowed him to fully explore his satirical commentary on subjects of the civil rights struggles in the South, racism, violence, and a series on Depression-era gangster, John Dillinger.

Colescott’s mature style became evident in his series The History of Printmaking (1975–78), where he describes important developments in the evolution of printmaking with various printmakers. Since the 1970s, Colescott has continued to pursue social satire in his work with subjects on burlesque, popular culture, the afterlife, and places like California, Wisconsin and New Orleans, the home of his ancestors. Recently, Colescott has turned his attention to the Middle East conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He lives and works in Hollandale, Wisconsin.

1942 - BFA at the University of California, Berkeley.
1942-46 – served in the Army in World War II
1947 - MFA at the University of California, Berkeley
1947-1949 taught art at Long Beach City College
1949- 1986 taught at the University of Wisconsin–Madison
Continuing studies:
1952-53 -Académie de la Grande Chaumière, Paris
1956–57 Fulbright Fellow, Slade School of Fine Art, University of London
1963 - Guggenheim Fellowship, London

1979 – A History of Printmaking, Madison Art Center
1988-89 Elvehjem Museum of Art (now the Chazen Museum of Art), University of Wisconsin–Madison
1996 and 2010 - Milwaukee Art Museum

1957 - Fulbright Fellowship
1965 - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship
1975 - National Endowment for the Art Printmaking Fellowship
1979 & 1983 - National Endowment for the Arts
1992 - Academician of the National Academy of Design
Fellow of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts, and Letters

Art Institute of Chicago
the Bibliothèque Nationale de France
Brooklyn Museum
Carnegie-Mellon Museum
Chazen Museum of Art in Madison
Cincinnati Art Museum
Columbus Museum of Art
Los Angeles County Museum
Madison Museum of Contemporary Art
Metropolitan Museum of Art
Milwaukee Art Museum
Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Wisconsin Art in West Bend
National Gallery of Art
New York Public Library
Portland Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum
Tate Gallery of Modern Art
Victoria and Albert Museum
Whitney Museum of American Art

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