From Sept. 26 to Oct. 22, the walls of Tyler Art Gallery are filled with various forms of political commentary artwork called “Politics on Paper.” The work is from the Syracuse University art collection and can be described as “Art with an Agenda,” meaning that the exhibition should provoke political thought and conversation after viewing it. With politics constantly being talked about in 2017, this collection takes a step back from divide and shows the progression of both artwork and the world as a whole.
The exhibition entails work ranging from the pioneering etchings of 17th Century French artist, Jacques Callot, to the 2011 renderings of Obama portraitures, a gift of Jerome Witkin. The way the exhibition was curated speaks to the viewer with a sense of unification between the oldest sketches to the newest. The artwork is not necessarily in chronological order, focusing more on the ideas as a whole than the individual political/social statements that each one makes. The collection features the work of various artists, including Thomas Nast, Honore Daumier, Francisco Goya, Kathe Kollwitz, William Gropper, Robert Rauschenberg and Amos Paul Kennedy Jr.
The term “etching” describes the process of using strong acid to shape various metal forms, creating a printing plate that can be covered in ink and then transferred onto actual paper. It was basically the earliest form of a modern-day ink stamp. This process is still honored in the art world today, simply because it takes very precise skill to execute effectively.
The “Politics on Paper” exhibition highlights the work of Jacques Callot (1592-1635), and honors his innovation as a founding father of combining art and etching with printmaking and social commentary. Callot’s career consisted of more than 1,400 etchings. He portrayed everything from clowns to soldiers, all containing the same signature style. His work was significant because the origins of illustration and graphic design can be traced back to him. He focused heavily on figures and even added elements of caricature by emphasizing significant features of them.
The combination of the emergence of political and social commentary with printmaking was an extremely pivotal time in the art world. For the first time in history, art and writing could be mass-produced. It is easy for the modern world to take this for granted, simply because art, writing and anything else imaginable can be found within seconds on a smartphone. Picturing a world where art, literature and information stood still is hard to imagine, which is why printmaking has changed life in so many ways. Artists began to take their opinions about the world around them and incorporate them into their work, causing controversy and conversation in response to the work. It provided artwork with mobility, and artists thrived in response.
The social commentary in the exhibition is very interesting in modern context. The artwork was all created to mirror the time period that the artist lived in, making every message within the subject matter a very authentic and powerful one. It is very eye-opening to see what problems have existed in the past and how the world has evolved. The artists never held back from depicting even the most violent sights that they witnessed, including slavery, poverty, war and illness. This added a very moving element to the time period and made the general public aware of the problems that existed. The black and white color scheme of the etchings also enhances the mood of each piece.
Kathe Kollwitz is known worldwide for her sculptures, etchings and charcoal drawings. She influenced the printmaking time period with the way she portrayed social commentary in a very direct way. Her artwork is very dark, but it shines a light on the issues that our world has encompassed in history. She specifically focused her artwork on the peasant revolution in post-WWI Germany. Most people living in this time period turned a blind eye to the intensity of the revolution, especially those with entitlement or of a higher class. Kollwitz tastefully spread awareness to all and became recognized for doing so. Her pieces can be found within the “Politics on Paper” collection, and Oswego State is proud to be showcasing some of her most famous works of art including “Aufruhr” and “Die Gefangeman.”
This exhibition is all about change. The need for change was clear and present within the various events that have occurred around the world, and artists throughout history have taken charge of bringing change by focusing on these events in their work. Artists throughout history, especially those involved in the “Politics on Paper” collection, have graced the world with their innovation and social and political commentary.