Configuring rectilinear blocks and beams in ways that suggest figures in motion, Joel Shapiro creates sculptures that animate the cool, reductive forms of Minimalism. After first constructing miniature houses, chairs, and other objects in the 1970s, he began making his signature large-scale sculptures in wood and bronze in the early 1980s.
Shapiro's first prints were etched fingerprints, made in 1970 at the New York Graphic Workshop. He has worked intermittently in printmaking ever since, completing more than fifty editions in collaboration with several New York publishers, who encouraged him to try his hand at the different techniques available at various local workshops. Among others, these include lithographs at Derrière L'Étoile Studios, screenprints at Simca Print Artists, aquatints with Aldo Crommelynck, and etchings with Maurice Payne.
Shapiro first explored the woodcut technique in 1985 at Universal Limited Art Editions, where he used printing blocks that were not carved but rather assembled using fragments taken from a dollhouse. The work shown here is one of several woodcuts that Shapiro subsequently produced at The Grenfell Press. Devoid of the expressionist style and content most commonly associated with woodcuts, it demonstrates the flexibility of the technique to embrace different artistic approaches. Created from three separate blocks cut into simple rectangular shapes, this print emphasizes contrasting grains of different wood veneers. By retaining the scalloped edges that were left after the shapes were gouged from larger blocks, Shapiro underscores the literal presence of these sculpturelike elements and leaves a tangible reminder of his physical process. He also brings a sculptor's instinctive feel for spatial relationships to the final composition, in which the slightly skewed blocks seem to shift forward and backward within the generous margins of the paper.
Publication excerpt from an essay by Starr Figura, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 191.