Monday, April 25, 2016

Werner Drewes' Abstractions in Print

I recently saw the work of Werner Drewes and thought, "Man, how did I never see this person's work before?" It is pretty spectacular, in range and subject. He is a master of the cut mark and composition. The Variety of his color work is soft to bold and the simplicity of a female portrait is so complex it shatters our notions of a simple, yet descriptive mark. I, for one, am riveted by his work, and I hope you will enjoy this man's oeuvre as much as I have. Be sure to share this article with anyone working in printmaking, because we need to share our fellow printmaker's work with each other.
Werner Drewes (1899–1985) was a German-American artist/teacher widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of American abstraction, and one of the first artists to introduce the ideas of the Bauhaus school to the United States.

Drewes was born in Canig, Germany. In 1917, he was drafted by the German army and served in France. After the war, he made art and traveled Europe. He studied architecture at both the Königlich Technischen Hochschule Charlottenburg and at the Technischen Hochschule Stuttgartand. He then enrolled in Stuttgart's school of applied arts (Kunstgewerbeschule) and joined a group of artists and architects associated with the newly formed Merz Akademie, a college of design, art, and media in Stuttgart. He also studied at the Bauhaus, with teachers Johannes Itten, Lyonel Feininger, and Paul Klee.

In 1923 and 1924 he studied art during travels throughout Italy, Spain, the United States, and Central America and in 1926 he traveled to San Francisco, Japan, and Korea, Manchuria, Moscow, and Warsaw. He resumed study at Bauhaus in 1927, in Dessau. He studied with László Moholy-Nagy, Wassily Kandinsky, and Lyonel Feininger. With the rise of Nazism, Drewes emigrated to the United States in 1930. His work soon captured the attention of the New York critics.

Drewes began to teach at the Brooklyn Museum Art School funded by the Federal Art Project of the Works Progress Administration. In 1936, he became an American citizen and a founding member of both the anti-fascist American Artists' Congress and the avant-garde American Abstract Artists group. Healso participated in group shows held by Société Anonyme at Black Mountain College, in North Carolina. The next year, Drewes obtained a position at the School of Architecture of Columbia University. During this time, he made prints for the Graphic Arts Division of the WPA Federal Art Project in New York.
In 1940 he opened an art school called the Department of Abstract Art at the Master Institute of United Arts. In 1944 and 1945 he worked at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 in New York City. Together, they improved the intaglio technique in color print-making.

In 1945 Drewes taught at Brooklyn College and then shifted to Chicago where he joined with Moholy-Nagy to teach at the Institute of Design. In 1946 he joined the faculty of the School of Fine Arts at Washington University in St. Louis. He retired in 1965 and moved to Reston, Virginia.

As a prolific printmaker, Drewes produced some 732 prints, including 269 etchings and drypoints, 30 lithographs, 14 celloprints, a lone silkscreen, and 418 woodcuts. His mature style encompassed nonobjective and figurative work and the emotional content was consistently expressive. Enjoy, my inked up brethren!

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