Sol LeWitt Prints 1970-1995Sol LeWitt's art is about ideas, not form. The ideas that inform a system become the content of his work. Beginning in the mid-1960s, with a simple artistic vocabulary of lines and cubes, LeWitt (born 1928) used systems to devise an art free from previous stylistic associations. In three-dimensional work, these generated austere serial structures that belied the artistic mark. When LeWitt began drawing directly on the wall and using a team of assistants to execute his written systems, he overturned traditional assumptions about the permanent, unique, and autographic nature of art. LeWitt's work has always been characterized by a tension between the perceptual beauty of his objects and the rigor of the concepts behind them. (...)
The Museum of Modern Art
New York, 1996 (Excerpt)
Among LeWitt's earliest prints after the Xerox Book were rigorous serial projects. In 1971, encouraged by publisher Robert Feldman of Parasol Press, LeWitt went to Oakland, Calllornia, to make etchings with Kathan Brown at Crown Point Press. Because etching is inherently reductive and its basic element is the line, it was an ideal medium for LeWitt. That year he completed a set of etchings entitled Bands of Color in Four Direclions & All Combinations. LeWitt mastered etching's subtleties in this early series, making all sixteen images from only two plates: one with a band of parallel lines with pointed ends, printed in red and blue, the other with flat ends, printed in black and yellow. The entire set was accomplished by rotating and layering the two plates, changing the ink color as needed. LeWitt devised this sophisticated printing system himself, an indication of his precocious understanding of the medium. (...)
According to LeWitt, “Ideas may also be stated with numbers, photographs, or words or any way the artist chooses, the form being unimportant.” For him, words and lines carry equal weight as expressions of an idea. In his early work, a lengthy written description accompanied every piece, often installed on the wall as a verbal equivalent. Working again with etching printers at Crown Point Press in 1975, LeWitt made his most important printed statements about the role of language in his art. In a series of five prints entitled The Location of Lines, words and phrases become part of the work, not merely parallel to it. This creates an interdependence of language and image: words describe the position of lines, and lines demarcate the placement of words. Words occupy more and more of each successive sheet; in the fifth print, they dominate the composition. An undercurrent of chaos exists, a sense of the machine gone out of control. LeWitt may be mocking Conceptual art's dependence on text or his own now famous quotation, “The idea becomes a machine that makes the art.” Such tension between an ordered system and its potential for disorder is an underlying theme in LeWitt's work.
By the early 1980s LeWitt was relaxing the rigor of his systems. His series no longer exhausted all possible variants, and he allowed certain subjective decisions to intrude. The work of these years shows an increasing interest in tone and surface. In 1981, LeWitt began using gray ink washes in the wall drawings, and by 1982, broad areas of aquatint appeared in his prints. In an elaborate aquatint series entitled Forms Derivad from a Cube (1982), LeWitt chose to depict only twenty-four of the almost limitless possible forms within the structure of a cube and used different shades of gray to depict each plane.
In this series, LeWitt also shifted his focus from the depiction of the two-dimensional to the creation of flattened, isometric renderings of three-dimensional forms. The Forms Derived from a Cube and the subsequent Pyramids series marked a turning paint in LeWitt's work. In each there is a tension between a two-dimensional and a three-dimensional reading of the image. In the Pyramids, color determines the degree of illusionism of the forms. Moreover, this series has no system, evidence of the growing role of personal artistic choice-a trend that continues in series of the 1990s.