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This week I learned at the last minute of this exhibit at the Nation Arts Club Gallery;

"In 1948, with the help of Will Barnet, Robert “Bob” Blackburn started the Printmaking Workshop - one of the premier printmaking studios in the country. Blackburn was a student of Barnet’s at the Art Students League, and by 1949, he was designated a Master Printmaker by the National Academy of Design. The Printmaking Workshop dared to be innovative and attracted artists of all levels. Blackburn and Barnet collaborated on breakthrough works mutually defining their careers. The impact of both artists on the printmaking world still resonates today as demonstrated by the eclectic group of artists and techniques included in this exhibition."

You know Barnet's work. He was no longer teaching when I got to the League but he gave an artists talk my first year there. I've always remembered how he told of drinking at the Cedar Tavern in the Village, and saying to someone, "You say Cezanne can't paint? Well, I'll have to punch you in the nose!"

Here's a portrait he did of Blackburn; I think it's an etching.

Here's something they worked on together.

And "Summer" by Mr. Blackburn.

Another artist in this show is Romare Beardon.

He also gave an artist's talk at the League. I found him charming--funny, affable and self-deprecating. A while after that that I saw him in a restaurant--a New York celebrity spotting. I've always regretted that I didn't send drinks to his table. I know it's not a good practice to dwell on missed opportunities, but it could have been nice. Sometimes I play out in my mind the conversation we might have had. It's a reminder to take the step, to reach out, even if I'm not sure what may happen.

After a few years in the graphics class at the League I joined the Printmakers Workshop--it was the traditional path for etchers. Mr. Blackburn was not there all the time but enough for me to have a few words with him. He was a lovely man, friendly, helpful, known for his generosity towards young artists. And he was awarded a MacArthur genius grant.

A few years later when I saw him at the corner of Seventh Avenue and 12th Street I put away my shyness and greeted him.

"Mr. Blackburn, how nice to see you--I was one of the etchers at the workshop and--"

He gave me a huge greeting, "Hey, how are you? Where are you going? I'll give you a lift!"

"Oh, that's okay, I'm almost home, really."

"No, c'mon, here we go." And he ushered me into a cab. We drove a few blocks, I hopped out and off he went.

I told that story to another etcher saying "Wasn't that generous? He's so nice and he wasn't even going my way."

She gave me a withering look and said, "He needed your white face to get a cab."

When I think of the things I know, the things I don't know, the things I don't know that I don't know ...

I try to keep in mind that "the light shines in the darkness and the dark cannot extinguish it, or comprehend it, whichever translation you read.

And a quote from James Baldwin about the paintings of his friend, Beauford Delaney;

"... we are, my friends, in the light: and if in that light, which is both loving and merciless, we can confront each other, we are liberated by the perception that darkness is not the absence of light but its denial."

February 03, 2022

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