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A Different Way of Seeing

Motherwell's works on paper touch both the senses and the imagination. ART: COMMENTARY

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ROBERT MOTHERWELL reminds us that ``seeing'' is not simply an activity of the eye. He suggests that the body itself is an organ of perception and art a form of transformation. These points came to mind at a recent exhibition of Motherwell's works on paper at the Associated American Artists Gallery here. The show celebrated the artist's 45 years of printmaking. During that time, he has produced over 400 works on paper, surely one of the largest bodies of such work by a major American painter, of which a spectrum of pieces dating from 1963 to 1989 was displayed.

Together they established that Motherwell's work is an alternative perception of our world. Of all the Abstract Expressionists, Motherwell (the youngest of the founders) has a unique and powerful capacity for combining expression, intelligence, and intuition. What he has achieved is an elaborate array of visual conventions built upon an entirely different conception of ``seeing'' from the one previously understood in Western culture.

Most of the prints in the show - ``The Prints of Robert Motherwell: A Retrospective'' - resulted from the the artist's decision in 1972 to establish an etching press in his own studio and to work with master printer Catherine Mosley. With a profound awareness of Motherwell's sensibility, Mosley has become a collaborator in his efforts to create an important contribution to American printmaking.

Among the works were eloquent pieces such as ``Cavern'' (1989), a startling study of a single, powerful, black form against a background of dark, swirling wash; ``Automatism Elegy'' (1979-80), a remarkable work in black, one that reconfirms Motherwell's conception of black as a color and not simply a tone or buffer for other hues; ``The Razor's Edge'' (1986), dramatic black architectural forms on a rust background; and ``Blue Elegy'' 1987), a warm, evocative use of blue and gray tones in a monumental composition that provides a sense of quietude and memory.

What radiated from the cumulative experience of seeing these works was an image of Motherwell himself - a stately man of firm conviction as well as immense humanity, an artist of great refinement and rare intelligence. Everywhere in his work one discovers not only a worldliness but a pervasive intuition and vividness of imagination.


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