Readers, if you only see one exhibition all year, go and see, ‘the American Scene’ at the Djanogly gallery. Yes, I know that a print exhibition is not top of every student’s agenda with the demanding trio of Oceana, Isis and Ocean to be attended every week. However, it will revolutionise what you think of printmaking, I promise.

The exhibition, despite featuring prints of up to a hundred years old, shakes off printmaking’s slightly fusty image as painting and photography’s dowdy cousin. It puts printmakers back into the forefront of art history by charting the cultural developments of over fifty years of American history.

Starting at the turn of the century; John Sloan’s etchings have the intimacy of Degas’ pastels coupled with a recognisably forthright American outlook. These lead on to George Bellow’s skilled lithographs evocative of darker elements of American society. In particular, ‘Electrocution’ is a terrible antidote to the glittering American dream of later prints exhibited.

The Great Depression is a dominant theme throughout and one which particularly resonates with our own credit-crunch consciousness. Printmaking was an important cultural force at the time, exposing social problems. There are harrowing prints of poverty stricken farmers and the mass unemployed queuing at a soup kitchen.

Pollock and his contemporaries are also well represented, anticipating America’s place at the forefront of the art world. Abstract Expressionism is revealed as the obvious answer to America’s rollercoaster early 20th century; born out of Depression-era fervent realism and the war’s sobriety to create an irreverent comment on the today’s power house.

Must see:

George Bellows’ ‘A Stag at Sharkey’s’; for one of the finest expressions of light and dark in a lithograph. Ever.
Louis Lozowick’s ‘New York’. American optimism and design at its height in the 1920s.
Leonard Baskin’s monumental woodcuts: ‘Man of Peace’ and ‘The Hydrogen Man’. Terrifying post-war paranoia.

Vicky Carter

‘The American Scene: Prints from Hopper to Pollock’ is at the Djanogly Gallery until 19th April.

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