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One of the most consistently overlooked aspects of Colorado Springs culture is its rich art history. During the first half of the 20th Century, Colorado Springs was second to none among arts colonies west of the Mississippi. One thing we hope to do on a monthly basis here at The Big Something is bring you a guided arts history audio-slideshows from curators and arts mavens like Blake Milteer, Curator of 19th -21st Century Art at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center. This month we’re taking a look at Herbert Bayer, one of the artists that was featured in the Colorado Springs Abstract exhibition at The Fine Arts Center this past winter.
What we’re looking at is a portfolio of works by Herbert Bayer from 1948, squarely in the period of “high modernism.” I find these works to be a central part of the abstraction that had gone on here in the Springs [at that time].
One of the important things about abstraction in Colorado Springs as it sprung up in the 1940s and 1950s is that a big part of the inspiration for its taking hold here is that you had significant artists from afar come here for brief periods of time and extolling the importance of abstraction. One of those artists was Robert Motherwell, who taught here in the summer of 1954. And he, of course, is one of the New York School, one of the great core of American abstractionists that was critical to this shift in art world attention from Paris to New York at that point. That also happened via artists who came from Europe to America. Herbert Bayer was one of those artists. He was an Austrian-born artist who studied and then taught at the Bauhaus prior to WWII and ultimately settled in Aspen (was brought out there by the Aspen Institute). He was one of those great modern artists who was multi-talented; he worked equally well in various media from painting to sculpture to photography; he was among the first artists to create earth works; he was a graphic designer.
What we have here is a series of seven prints from a portfolio called “7 Convolutions” that he did here at the Fine Arts Center with nationally renowned lithographer Lawrence Barrett. So it’s extraordinary that this internationally renowned artist came down here to the Springs work directly with Barrett on this extraordinary body of work. It’s seven, four-color lithographs. And the process that the two had to develop to create this series of abstract and semi-abstract lithographs was amazing: They had to come up with a process in which not only only were they able to print these various colors, but one of Bayer’s concerns was that in Lithography you weren’t able to achieve a bright white. So they came up with a process of building up chalk with which they were able to achieve a really luminous whites.
The subject matter of these prints is various iterations of this notion of convolution. And so some of them appear very much as water rolling over rocks, which is a very central theme to us here in Colorado as landscape imagery. And then some of them become sort of purely abstract where they look like neither water nor topography or geography, but feel like what we might describe as pure abstraction where there’s no recognizable subject matter.