San Francisco

“Six British Print­makers”

Eric Locke Gallery

An exhibition of six British Print­makers at the Eric Locke Gallery, one of the most durable of the smaller scenes which, one might add, performs a unique service to the community in that it is the only gallery devoted pri­marily to contemporary prints, both in quality and quantity. The exhibition has a peculiarly British look, sometimes a backward one, although the selection is far too sparse to make general com­ments on the awakening of contempo­rary British printmakers of which we have heard. (Where are Alan Davies, Ceri Richards, Anthony Gross, and others?) From this representation, it is apparent that our English friends are beset with the same failures with which those of us who look at print shows have become so unfortunately familiar: the obsession with technical means, an apparent disre­gard for format and scale, and more important, for the fusion of means, self, and idea.

The work of Keith Armour falls into that vast, generic slough in which so many American printmakers have settled themselves, including the army of second, third, and fourth-generation Lasansky followers whose ambitiously over-wrought plates stifle content and idea with technical virtuosity. This criti­cal balance is best defined in the color plates of John Brumsden whose black aquatint directness is powerful and sometimes moving. Brumsden’s work suffers somewhat from the common problem of inflated format, a curious blindness that besets many printmakers whose statements were best left in arm­length intimacy.

In sharp contrast to the tender trap of the intaglio surface, there is an almost Puritanical honesty about the woodcut and relief printing in general. White Boat, a linocut by Michael Rothenstein, seems almost defrocked in the context of contemporary print­making, with a quiet directness that leaves one of the most satisfying impressions in the exhibition. Dennis Hawkins and Francis Kelly combine im­probables of media and idea: Kelly has rendered a series of insipid landscapes of bright and burning Portugal in deep, dark, dependable aquatint which he has laboriously scraped from black to white in the traditional mezzotint manner; while Hawkins’ flat, silkscreen surfaces present valid plastic ideas (keyed to the American scene) that were best preserved in paint.

By far the most original of the group is Tony Harrison, whose large mono­chromatic intaglios have a curious rela­tionship to 16th-century city-views with their intricate linear mazes possibly seen down the leg of a high-flying bird. They represent an extraordinary break with the literal expressionist landscapes of his earlier work. Another curious note: Contrary to the usual sequence of events in the life of an artist, Harrison breaks out with the closed form.

Dennis Beall