Lady In Red: Alex Katz, Brisk Day

Alex Katz_Brisk Day

(left) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Woodcut, 36 in x 29 1/8 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013. (middle) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Aquatint, 35 3/8 in x 28 1/2 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013 (right) Alex Katz, Brisk Day, 1990. Lithograph, 36 in x 29 in. Gift of Fenner Milton, 2013

These three portraits, recent acquisitions for the museum, are currently the only thing displayed in a small gallery at the Phillips. Take a moment to look at each one. What are the similarities? What are the differences?

It’s not until we look at the labels that we realize what creates the small nuances in color and line between the three works—each one is a different form of print. Artist Alex Katz is known for his arresting simplicity of line and form, bright, flat colors, and a powerful graphic punch that link them to commercial art and popular culture. By generalizing the features of a sitter or a landscape, and removing any expressive or emotional content, Katz focuses instead on formal properties of light, scale and color.

What is chine-collé?

The museum has four works that use the chine-collé printmaking technique and three of them are currently on display.

Stuart Davis, Place des Vosges, 1928, Chine colle lithograph on paper 10 1/2 x 14 1/2 in.; 26.67 x 36.83 cm.. Acquired 1930. The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

Chine-collé,  succinctly described in the Tamarind Book of Lithography: Art and Techniques, is a printmaking process in which a very thin sheet of paper is printed on and simultaneously mounted to a thicker backing paper. The thin paper can receive a better impression, but is too fragile to stand alone. The combination of the thin paper and the heavier backing creates a fine impression and a stable supported ground. Additionally, sometimes a pleasing contrast can be created through tonal differences between the two materials.

Building an Online Print Workshop

screenshot of the Phillips's Jasper Johns printmaking interactive

Recent exhibition Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme focused on Johns’s creative impulses and collaborations with several distinguished print shops. To produce events and content for the exhibition, Phillips staff also engaged in rich, inter-departmental collaborations. Assistant Curator Renée Maurer and Digital Media Manager Michelle Herman teamed up to create the museum’s first ever in-house microsite Jasper Johns: Variations on a Theme Printmaking Workshop. They reflect on the process here. 

Renée Maurer: From the beginning, I wanted there to be a workshop for visitors to see the tools of printmaking. I also wanted there to be a program where visitors could experience firsthand how to make a print. I worked with Brooke Rosenblatt and Amanda Jiron-Murphy in the education department to bring master printer Scip Barnhart to the museum for a program. We decided Scip’s event would have to be small as it would take place in the workshop adjacent to the exhibition. I was able borrow materials from Scip for the show, and he agreed to lead a type of printmaking class. His enthusiasm for the program and for Johns was so high that he even made a lithographic stone and an etching plate with imagery from the exhibition for the occasion, which he pulled (ahead of time) for attendees.

Michelle Herman: A working group that I lead considered ways to feature digital content from the exhibition on the Phillips website. After looking at various examples such as MoMA’s What is a Print?, we devised a plan to shoot Scip’s workshop on video and showcase it in a custom-built microsite. This would allow the workshop to have an impact beyond its small in-person audience. We enlisted A/V Support Specialist Mark Weiner to accomplish this task. Scips’ program was filmed and then edited down to focus on the three printmaking processes: etching, lithography, and silkscreen. Renée recorded voice-over to describe Scip’s actions and added contextual information for the site based on the concepts from the exhibition.

Renée Maurer: Everyone did a fantastic job. Mark was great; he had to cut and paste a lot of footage, and then we had to match my narration with the steps that Scip was performing. Michelle offered a wonderful vision.

Michelle Herman: I worked on the concept, design, and development of the interactive. Assisted by my summer interns Jordan Albro (designer extraordinaire) and Michelle Shen (HTML guru), I began to think about how the site would look and function. I tasked Jordan and Michelle to research potential model sites that focused on video content. After reviewing several of them, we decided to build the site as a single page that would allow the user to fluidly scroll between each of the three sections. After spending time in the exhibition, I was really captured by Johns’s use of different paper colors and the rough textures he created through some of the print processes. I knew the interactive should mimic this textural quality.

I developed the initial design concept and explained my idea to Jordan (who acted as junior designer on the project). He then turned these digital sketches into backgrounds and other components of the site. The result is layered, complex, and just beautiful. While Jordan was refining the design, Michelle (who served as the site developer) began coding. Her HTML skills were incredibly impressive—and fast! My team presented these concepts to Renée, who was very receptive and excited by our ideas. We then pushed forward to create the site. With the addition of a new multimedia section to our recently relaunched website, the Jasper Johns interactive now has a home and can serve as a resource going forward.

Renée Maurer: I think the site looks terrific, and we will continue to update it. I would definitely work on an interactive like this again. The only problems we encountered had to do with scheduling. Shooting and reviewing the footage was also more challenging than I expected. Overall it was a great learning experience. I enjoyed working with colleagues in different departments and with technology.

Renée Maurer, Assistant Curator, and Michelle Herman, Digital Media Manager