Prints as Discovery

Lou Kaplan is represented in this exhibition by prints made at Pyramid Atlantic, Silver Spring, Maryland, Anderson Ranch, Aspen, Colorado and O’Brian Graphics, Boulder, Colorado. The two non-profit art centers and private studio allowed Lou time to forge new experimental paths in print media, to engage in dialogue with printers and fellow artists, and to develop an understanding for personal nuances of figuration and abstraction.

At Pyramid Atlantic, Lou created linoleum-cut prints and monoprints with artist/printer Rob L. Tillman. He was commissioned by Temple Sinai in Washington DC to create a print for the Rimonim Society as a gift for its membership and elected a pomegranate image. Pomegranates had been appearing in various locations where Lou and Sally traveled. They grew in Italy around his house where his studio was set up; in Florence and Granada (the city’s name means pomegranate), and on a trip to the Atticama Desert in Chile some trees even appeared in a dry desert area. The pomegranate, one of the biblical fruits represents eternal light and fertility. Its 618 seeds translate to the 618 good acts of life in the Jewish tradition. The abstractions conveyed by the pomegranate shape were in tune with Lou’s distinctive interest in calligraphic linear movement and seemed so fitting for the commission project. His brushwork had matured from early artistic practice with his high school “art squad”. The students’ first lesson was calligraphy and they were highly disciplined in the use of pen, brush and ink.

The pomegranate linoleum-cut was first created from drawing directly on the linoleum material. Using hand-carving tools, Lou gouged two blocks (matrixes) of a pomegranate shape. Each mark made by hand shows the distinctive animated line quality inherent to Lou’s attraction to fluid mark making. Printer Rob Tillman suggested overlapping numerous printings in different colors directly on top of one another. Some prints were made over painterly monoprint fields of color, to allow for discovery of various rich and diverse convergent images. This quality seen also in his oil, acrylic and watercolor paintings, come dramatically to life from the raised areas of linoleum-cut gouges that receive ink. Kaplan particularly enjoys printmaking for its luminous opaque color opportunities, so he played with the layering of the linoleum-cut blocks until he felt he had exhausted possibilities.

At a two-week summer session, at Anderson Ranch with artist Phyllis McGibbon, Lou jumped into another linoleum-cut process for a series of square abstractions. By keeping the image perfectly the same square size, he could rotate and register images to establish an exciting color field opportunity. He made two linoleum-cuts, one with linear animated brushstrokes and one with large brushstrokes of grosser shapes and gestures. These he inked and passed through the press up to ten or thirty times with varying color applications. He was testing the exuberance of abstract expressionism as translated into printmaking and trying to get “beyond lines”. Actually the process gave him the joy of chance, “screwing up,” and allowed the making of a second print (“ghost print”) that could be re-printed with different results in combination with another full color image. The daily activity to see where things fell apart or came together led to a very dynamic body of prints.

Kaplan’s eagerness to interchange line, plane and form has lead him to fully enjoy the printmaking experience, not in a traditional editioned format, but in a painterly
experimental play of activity. The fluid nature of monoprinting with linoleum provided plentiful new discoveries, ones that have been informative for his experimental nature in other works.


In Place of the Camera
Watercolors by Lou Kaplan

Masters such Winslow Homer, John Singer Sargeant, James Whistler, and John Marin, have always been models and inspiration for watercolorists and also for Lou Kaplan. The sensual response to light, color and nature whereby one stroke can become an image is always a driving force behind an artist who chooses this discipline and media, especially one who paints on site.

In delightful conversation with Lou while viewing his extraordinary watercolors made over the years we developed five location-driven themes for this exhibition: Washington DC, Italy, Colorado, Fenwick Island and Asia.

Always interested in the watercolor media, Lou became even more allured by its calling after retirement. In Washington traveling with a chair, a smallish tablet of paper and convenient Pelican water color blocks, Lou confesses he feels a sense of freedom, perhaps like that of a street person, in carrying out this artistic activity. He describes the experience as losing a sense of time whereby he seems to disappear as an artist in the immersion of doing the watercolors. In fact it is a magical process for Lou that opens many new doors of perception. The spontaneous use of water, clear performance of white paper and delicacy of mark has been addictive and important for his hand and vision. It has entirely replaced the need for a camera.

In Washington DC his favorite sites include the canal, areas around the Smithsonian, views from his studio and areas around his home. These works including Fletcher’s Boathouse, 1986, are some of the smoothest in brush application, capturing vast horizontal spaces of water and simply constructed architecture with a sprinkling of figures for a profound sense of scale.

In Italy where most of the watercolors have been created, full color references break into white space with bursts of movement that define piazzas (exemplified in Piazza della Republic, 2001), mountains, gardens and paths. The Colorado studies allow a dramatic change in format. Lou takes us into the mountains with more loosely defined interstices of bright color or delicately controlled washes, shaping the beginning of space by describing mountaintops and valleys and fitting our spatial experience into visual crevices that he has seen or traversed by foot. Works such as View from Wood Run, 1986 and Mesa Verde, 1989 speak eloquently to an analytic eye with both refined and investigative brushwork.

Fenwick Island aligns a magnificent refinement of space. White becomes an enormous playing field for figuration. Lou has worked in the studio with models throughout his artistic career. On the beach his knowledge of anatomy freely describe figures with great confidence, enjoyment and humor. An invisibly controlled perspective as conveyed in Beach, 1990, unites groups of bathers into the sea or horizon or sprinkles them across the sand. A sleeper (his wife Sally) as we all know ourselves in a beach chair is charmingly described in the most minimal terms. Brilliant light is captured with every turn of the brush, whether in describing fishers lined up in the tide or three beach lovers bound under an umbrella.

And finally China and Japan. In the most minimal of terms, perhaps just one brushstroke or one area of saturated color allows us to meditate on space. Just a few works are included in this area, and perhaps they remain the most highly selected of Lou’s eye. Effortless exchange with the space and seen so purely in China, 1996, puts Lou us at rest here and we are the richer for it. Now we almost disappear as the viewer, and that is where true beauty is experienced.