The Center for Contemporary Printmaking's fall exhibition features an array of original prints by Vijay Kumar. On display in the gallery at 299 West Ave. in Norwalk is a selection of thought-provoking original prints, line and tone etchings that often incorporate other intaglio techniques by a preeminent printmaking artist, educator and curator who lives and works in the area.
Born in Lehore (then part of India) and based in New York City, Kumar has had numerous solo exhibitions of his drawings, prints and paintings in the United States and abroad. His work is included in the permanent collections of the New York Public Library, the Museum of Modern Art, the New-York Historical Society, and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York City; the U.S. Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.; and the William Benton Museum of Art in Storrs, to name a few.
Vijay is the curator for the Indo-American Arts Council's annual Erasing Borders Exhibition of Contemporary Indian Art of the Diaspora. Kumar teaches printmaking at several graphics centers in New York City and at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking.
"Even though I mostly make etchings, it is drawing that has always been my main interest ... by my teens I was drawing people and animals, and this became an exciting daily routine," he said in a release.
"In my 20s I became especially fascinated by Indian cities and towns -- their crowded streets and the uneven geometry of their buildings -- and began to make on-the-spot drawings. "In these drawings, I was not too concerned about perspective or whether the drawings were architecturally correct but was always more concerned with composition and the arrangement of space, with overlap and depth. That preoccupation has stayed with me until today.
"I found I really liked etching, and took classes at Pratt Graphics Center after moving to Manhattan. These early etchings reflected my interest in alphabets, calligraphy and especially in hieroglyphics. Living in New York City and the on-the-spot drawings I had made in the past were both major influences for the imaginative cityscapes I have done recently. For my own amusement I sometimes add figures or doodles to these prints. ... I have always loved drawing horses."
A narrative is apparent in all of Kumar's artworks. When he was a child, he and his family left their home, during the religious strife that troubled India as the country gained its independence from Britain. Traveling the world -- from India to the Middle East, Europe and the United States -- his artistic focus centered on the geometry of urban spaces. In the fall exhibition, many pieces are untitled and are essentially architectural, linear jumbles such as stacked houses and buildings. The 18 prints in the series "India Portfolio" reflect the sorrow and loss of the refugee. In the background, a New York Times article from Dec 11, 1992, published the headline "Hatreds of India." Abstracted figures set in conflict or in positions of mourning dominate the series.
The intaglio technique
Etching is a method of intaglio printing, a method in which the recessed areas of a plate are printed. Etching was first used as a method of decorating armor during the 14th century, and the first etched plates were made of iron. Today, contemporary printmakers still rely on acid that incises lines into a copper or zinc plate. Etching line has a gestural freedom because the metal is eaten away. The lines are blunt-ended and wiry, reflecting how the acid bites the plate.
It takes a number of skilled steps to prepare an etching. First a polished metal plate is coated with an acid resistant "ground." Using an etching needle, the artist scratches lightly through the ground, exposing metal where the design is intended to print. The plate is then dipped into an acid bath, where the acid will "bite" the exposed metal. The longer a plate remains in the acid bath, the deeper and broader the lines will become, and the darker they print.
After the acid has bitten all the lines to the artist's satisfaction, the plate is taken from the acid, and the ground is removed. Next, the artist applies ink to the plate, working it into the etched lines. Then, the surface of the plate is wiped clean with a cloth and/or the palm of the hand, in preparation for printing. Sometimes, an artist will leave a surface film of ink on the plate, to create tonal variation. The prepared plate is placed on a "roll press," and a moistened sheet of printmaking paper, typically made of 100 percent cotton, is placed on top of the plate. The plate and paper are hand-cranked through the press under pressure, transferring the ink from the plate to the paper. If a print has more than one color, subsequent colors are typically made on separate plates, and each plate is run through the press onto the same piece of paper.
Vijay Kumar teaches creative workshops at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, in which he demonstrates a variety of specialized intaglio techniques, including etching, aquatint, spit bite, chine colle and drypoint. Workshop participants interact one on one with him, selecting their own projects and direction for a personalized intaglio exploration.
The exhibition runs through Sunday, Nov. 3. Normal hours are Monday through Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m.