Harry Bertoia, ca. 1940
color trace monotype, 60 x 85.1 cm
(23 5/8 x 33 1/2 in.), Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of B. Valentiner Bertoia

Bertoia Biography

Perhaps one of the most fully resolved and sustained bodies of work in monotype dating from the postwar period was made by Harry Bertoia. For Bertoia, working in the 1940s and 1950s, the monotype process was primarily a method of drawing that introduced an element of chance into an otherwise controlled process, an adaptation of the accidental images derived from automatism. Beginning with a film of printer's ink rolled onto a smooth surface, he laid a sheet of rice paper over it and drew on the back of the paper with a pencil, a stick, a block of wood, the heel of his hand --- anything that would imprint a line or texture onto the paper. Sometimes he inserted ahand-cut stencil between the inked surface and the paper to create white forms set off by the grainy texture of the ink. In 1943 Bertoia showed nineteen monotypes at theSolomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and continued to exhibit monotypes until he ended his relationship with the Nierendorf Gallery in 1947. Thereafter he used his work in this medium as a private notebook of ideas, referring to them regularly during his subsequent career as a furniture designer and sculptor.

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