Ebb of Hallowtide
Though Halloween is now in the rear view, today’s Bowers Blog post is published in the slightly belated spirit of October’s spookiest day. Here we look at a small selection of prints and drawings that are rife with mystery and the macabre. The four artists seen in today’s post were all active in California in the early to mid 20th century. All but one of them are only known locally, but today’s post is a poignant reminder that great art does not always come with great acclaim.
A Gloomy Glomb
Marian Glomb was a Californian artist and printmaker who created most of her notable works between the 1950s and ‘80s. Her prints were made using a variety of processes, everything from serigraphs to lithographs, and taking on an array of subjects ranging from the pictorial to the abstract. The Bowers has four other works by her including a bright linocut titled Burst of Spring and a textured paper print titled Cryptic Heart that may have been achieved using either the process pioneered by Mixografiá or a similar one. Of the five prints, none are so conspiratorial as Assignation, which here takes on the ambiguous meaning of being either a clandestine meeting between lovers—in this case a woman in white and a priest—or a depiction of a confessional in which a woman is being assigned penance for her confessed sins. Here the tenebrous depiction of the female figure against an otherwise dark scene gives the overall impression that something nefarious is afoot.
Dark is the Night
Of the four artists, Rockwell Kent is indisputably the best known, having been a fairly famous Renaissance man and having artworks in museum collections across the country. The bulk of his work focused on illustration, so prints were a medium Kent was very fluid in. This piece, Starry Night, depicts a woman on the front step of what is presumably a home. Her pose and expression tell of war raging within her, a yearning to leave, and a fear of what unknowns the collapsing night might hold. Kent relies on simple linework in the construction of the subject, but the background mirrors the conflict that is at the fore of the work, the clear night’s sky vies for space against a cloud bank that is made using what appears to be the natural woodgrain of the printing block.
Ascent is a remarkably complex study of suffering from the mind, hands, and charcoal of Mildred K. Walker. Having studied art at Columbia University and the University of Southern California, she was the founding head of the art department at El Camino College, a position that she stayed in for about three decades between the late 1940s and ‘70s. The work deters easy interpretation, but there is a palpable air of pain to it. The subject is rendered frenetically with errant lines ensnaring his form and mouth agape as if screaming out some horrible sound; every limb and emaciated mass appear wrung out. The title only poses more questions: an ascent is so often a triumphant thing, why would a climb elicit such agony aside from the physical burn of exertion? Perhaps this is the nude form of a mountain climber raging against the thinning air, perhaps a depiction of Sisyphus, punished for all eternity by being forced to roll a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down again once it reached the top.
Maze of Stone
Lawrence Macaray, the artist of this final drawing, was the fifth-generation descendant of Juan Pablo Grijalva—an important Californio—and donor of all but one of the four works in this post. He studied at Whittier College and California State University in Long Beach. Like Walker, he taught at El Camino College as the professor of Drawing and Painting. He was no doubt closely connected with at least Walker, but very likely Marian Glomb as well. Daybreak has a more optimistic title than the others featured here, but the labyrinthine, lithic forms make it difficult to tell what exactly dawn stands to change in this warped, abstractly defined space. There is something decidedly anthropomorphic about the central form. Has the first light of dawn petrified a troll, warts and all? Is there entirely something else at work here?
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