Exhibitions/ Terry Winters

Terry Winters: Printed Works

June 12 / 2001–January 6 / 2002
Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

Exhibition Overview

Born in 1949, the American artist Terry Winters is primarily known for his paintings and drawings. He is also, however, one of the most distinguished printmakers working today. He has explored a wide range of media at workshops such as Universal Limited Art Editions in West Islip, Long Island, and the Aldo Crommelynck studio in Paris. The exhibition contains a variety of lithographs, etchings, woodcuts, and linoleum cuts, and features individual prints as well as complete portfolios of closely related works. On view for the first time in New York is Winters's 1998 portfolio Set of Ten, etchings issued this year with Perfection, Way, Origin, a text by Swiss literary critic and Jean-Jacques Rousseau scholar Jean Starobinski. This text has just been published in limited-edition book form. The book, which contains twenty-eight additional etchings by Winters, is also in the exhibition.

The imagery in Winters' prints created in the 1980s and early 1990s contains elements of representation. His more recent prints, which are abstract, reflect his interest in the way that the world is linked in ways we cannot always visualize but constantly experience. Neural connections, brain functions, and cyberspace all interest him. "One classic definition of cyberspace is the place you go when you're on the telephone," says Winters. "It's the informational space out there, not immaterial but incorporeal. I'm interested in how to give a picture of these things we can't see."

Winters's printed works of the 1980s feature objects that float discretely or merge within a field. In more recent prints, the imagery is the field itself, and suggests deep, indeterminate space, as in the artist's two large oil paintings in the collection of the Metropolitan, Reflection Line Method (1997) and Light Source Direction (1997). Winters approaches painting, drawing, and printmaking with equal regard, with no hierarchy that positions painting and drawing above prints.

Exhibition Objects

Winters's first prints were lithographs, made at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), a prominent workshop and print publisher in Long Island, where he continues to work. ULAE is renowned for having revived an interest in printmaking in the late 1950s among notable American painters and sculptors and for fostering intense collaborations between the artists and printers. The ULAE printers responded imaginatively to what the artists wanted to do and became expert at converting commercial printing techniques, such as offset lithography, into processes viable for fine art.Morulas show what could be fertilized ova, hugely enlarged, at the stage of embryonic development when more and more segmentation takes place. Biologists term this stage morula, from the Latin word for mulberry, because the ova resemble the berry's aggregate structure.Folio, in order to combine a range of images into one unified work. Folio comprises eleven related prints, including a title page and a colophon. Since that time many of Winters's prints have been published in portfolio form, each offering a visual narrative or thematic link.Novalis. He also greatly expanded his knowledge of intaglio by working in Paris at the atelier of Aldo Crommelynck, a master of classical etching. The portfolio Field Notes, twenty-five small etchings published by Crommelynck (ten are on view in this exhibition), shows a wide range of etching techniques.

In the late 1980s and mid-1990s Winters made two portfolios of intaglio prints at ULAE. In Fourteen Etchings the lower images are photogravures, a term used in fine printing for intaglio images derived from photographs or other light-sensitive treatments. These photogravures, printed directly on the paper, were made from X rays of human anatomical parts. Winters took the images from a volume by William Röntgen, who discovered X-rays in 1895. The upper plates were printed on separate sheets of paper and later were glued to the backing paper. These began as drawings on Mylar which were made into gravures and then reworked with intaglio additions.

In the 1994 portfolio Models for Synthetic Pictures Winters departed from earlier imagery that he felt had been locked into naturalistic readings. Here the images are distinctly abstract, with complex fields of imaginary curved and angular forms all connected by outlines, almost like cloisonné enamel. Winters set up a program for the series using only black ink and the primary colors. The linear outlines were initially established on the etching plates with pen markers filled with lacquer, which stopped the etching acid from biting the plates wherever the forms were outlined. Included in the portfolio that Winters designed to house the Models is a page with black type on a cadmium red rectangle containing his meditations on elements of picture making.

In 1989 Winters also embarked on his first relief prints, the five woodcuts Furrows made with François Lafranca in Switzerland. Aware of expressive woodcuts by Paul Gauguin and Edvard Munch in which the imprint of the wood grain is an important component of the image, Winters complicated that tradition to create elegant works each printed from two different blocks of wood. He drew and carved his imagery on mahogany, a hard wood, using traditional woodworking tools from Japan to pull grooves of curving parallel lines away from the blocks. The lighter lines show what he removed; the darker areas were left in relief, received dark gray ink, and were printed. He worked on the mahogany blocks so that when they printed, the wood grain ran horizontally. He then printed the sheets again using inked, uncarved oak planks on which the grain ran vertically, and a moiré pattern was formed by the meshing of the two wood grains.

Winters' imagery in Furrows derives in part from illustrations of cross sections of the cranial nervous system as well as the temple gardens of raked pebbles and sand he had visited in Kyoto. He also wished to produce a family of structures that resonated with the wood grain, the annual rings that are indexes of growth and the passage of time.

In 1995 Winters continued working on relief prints with Glyphs, a portfolio of six linoleum cuts printed on delicate white Japanese paper. Winters cut away his drawings in the soft linoleum blocks; the areas left in relief were printed with black oil ink. Then, following a technique conceived by Picasso in the early 1960s called épreuves rincées (rinsed proofs), Winters rinsed the sheets with water-based indigo dye. The dye adhered only to the cut-away areas left blank on the white paper, not to the areas already printed in black ink. Where the oily black ink and the water-based blue dye met, they repulsed one another, creating a slight halo effect.

During the second half of 1995 and early 1996 Winters made 125 ink drawings, the Computation of Chains. These studies became source material for a large body of work he produced over the next five years, including a number of prints in this exhibition and two paintings from 1997 in the Museum's collection, Reflection Line Method and Light Source Direction, on view in the Blanche and A. L. Levine Court on the mezzanine of the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing. Much of the essential syntax of these works involves loosely structured grids, which are crossed by diagonals and elliptical lines that narrow and thicken in a gestural manner sometimes reminiscent of Abstract Expressionism. The webs they create are layered and suggest deep, indeterminate space.

In the course of making these works Winters became interested in what such images would look like if they were made without the inflection of his gestures. Accordingly, to make the relief prints Graphic Primitives, a portfolio of nine woodcuts finished in 1998, he scanned some of the Computation of Chains drawings into a computer. This produced images in which the lines were even and crisp; he then used a graphics program to layer areas, change the scale of shapes, and play with composition. A disk of the computer-manipulated images was sent to a machinist who incised them with a laser into blocks of cherry wood, and the blocks were used to print the woodcuts. Winters returned to Picasso's rinsed-proof method to produce the final sheets. Areas left in relief were printed with white oil ink on white paper, and the entire sheet was then rinsed with black Sumi ink. The incised areas—the drawings—printed in black, as did the substantial deckle-edged borders of the paper.

Winters made a number of etchings related to his drawing series of 1995–96, the Computation of Chains. In these the etching process itself, that is, the successive bites of the copperplate made by various techniques, helps build a sense of depth. In the earliest of these etchings, Systems Diagram of 1996, faint pencil lines made with soft-ground etching also create depth toward the lower corners of the print. The abstract imagery appears to be in motion, yet the work is bordered at the sides by strong vertical lines that freeze the frame of the image. In Internal and External Values, the "freeze-frame" effect is achieved with horizontal lines. The Prussian blue ink Winters used has the capacity to receive different levels of etching in different tones, some opaque and some pale or nearly transparent. Thus the color itself helps to establish depth.

A group of smaller intaglios in black ink, the Set of Ten was made in 1998 to accompany a limited edition of a book on aesthetics and creativity by the Swiss literary critic Jean Starobinski. The book includes twenty-eight additional etchings by Winters, and part of Starobinski's text considers how series of prints with a common theme constitute "the happiness of remaining within a disciplined, regular order, but one perpetually starting over again, hence mobile and allowing the diverse and unforeseen to manifest itself every moment like an outcropping of the infinite."

Starobinski's words point to the probability that Winters's recent prints may be understood as metaphors of cyberspace or as maps of the informational space we experience frequently but cannot see. Winters latest prints, the etching Amplitude (2000) and the lithograph Pattern (2001), consist of interwoven systems of meshwork that build and torque space. These wire-frame-like structures appear to have the capacity to extend beyond the perimeters of the sheet. In this respect Winters's work connects to the infinitely interconnected realm of cyberspace, and it also echoes aspects of the tradition of Abstract Expressionist painting.

The following is an excerpt from an essay entitled "Picturing What We Can't See," by Nan Rosenthal, consultant in the Metropolitan Museum's Department of Modern Art and curator of the exhibition. The essay appears in its entirety in the exhibition catalogue.


Picturing What We Can't See

Terry Winters is a consummate New Yorker. Highly intelligent and street-smart in a gentle fashion, he is an avid reader with a wry wit. Winters and his Swiss wife, Hendel Teicher, a freelance curator and art historian, maintain an apartment in Geneva and travel often to museums, archaeological sites, and centers of craft in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Such travel might involve meetings with the Swiss literary critic and Jean-Jacques Rousseau scholar Jean Starobinski, whose recent text, Perfection, Way, Origin, Winters interwove with etchings. When Winters exhibited in Japan in 1989, stops included the raked temple gardens of Kyoto, an indigo-dye factory, and a shop selling traditional Japanese woodcutting tools, some of which Winters felt compelled to acquire. These visits played into the creation of two portfolios of relief prints in this exhibition, Furrows (1989) and Glyphs (1995). Unquestionably, travel feeds Winters's art.

The focal space of Winters's artistic activity, however, consists of several stair-linked floors in a building in the lower Manhattan neighborhood of Tribeca. Here Winters has a large painting studio on one level and, on another level, a spacious studio for drawing and an office with many countertops and a computer. Winters's living spaces on these floors weave privately above and below the studios. They abound with stunning artifacts from widely different cultures, sensuously sculptural plants, out-of-the-ordinary contemporary furniture, and many books. Two sleek, honey brown Abyssinian cats share their space with small reproductions of their aloof Egyptian ancestors. The atmosphere is homey, humorous, and elegant, yet resolutely resists shelter magazine chic. The other centers of Winters's artistic activity are two: there are the drawings in many materials—for example, gouache, watercolor, juicy crayon, graphite, charcoal, and fine-lined ink—that he makes not only at home but almost whenever and wherever he travels; and then there are the distinguished printmaking ateliers where he has worked regularly for the past nineteen years, producing more than 150 lithographs, intaglios, woodcuts, linoleum cuts, and screenprints. Ninety of these have been selected for this retrospective. A catalogue raisonné of Winters's prints from 1982 to 1998 contains an astute narrative by Richard H. Axsom about Winters's development as a printmaker over much of this period.1 The Metropolitan's catalogue documents the contents of the Museum's exhibition as well as Winters's entire print production subsequent to the publication of the catalogue raisonné in 1999. This essay examines Winters's recent prints, but it also looks back at earlier works that forecast his current focus: to propose visually, through his essentially abstract art, how the world at present is linked in ways we cannot always visualize but constantly experience. With respect to this pursuit, Winters sometimes refers to the term "cyberspace," coined by William Gibson in his 1984 science fiction novel Neuromancer.2 Gibson's popular neologism derives from the word cybernetics, which M.I.T. mathematician Norbert Wiener created in 1948 to describe the branch of science dealing with the comparative study of human control systems, such as the brain and nervous system, and complex electronic systems. (Cybernetics, in turn, derives from the Greek noun kybernetes, or helmsman, which is from the verb kybernao, meaning to steer or to govern.) Winters is as interested in brain function and the structure of neural connections as he is in images of cybergeography he has found on the Internet. Asked recently what Gibson's term cyberspace really means, Winters replied: "I don't know exactly, but one classic definition is the place you go when you're on the telephone. It's the informational space out there. It's not immaterial but incorporeal. I'm interested in how to give a picture of these things we can't see."3


Notes

1. Richard H. Axsom, "The Philosophers' Stone: The Prints of Terry Winters," in Nancy Sojka with Nancy Watson Barr, Terry Winters Prints 1982–1998: A Catalogue Raisonné (Detroit: The Detroit Institute of Arts, 1999), pp. 11–36.

2. Winters believes that Gibson's writing was influenced by William Burroughs's hallucinatory montage novel Naked Lunch (1959) and Burroughs's fiction from the 1960s and 1970s involving time travel and telepathy.

3. Unless otherwise noted, quotations from Terry Winters come from the author's interviews with the artist on December 13, 2000, and January 18, 2001.