Following her first solo exhibition at the Castelli Gallery in 1960, Lee Bontecou quickly became one of the few women artists to receive major recognition in that decade. Standing apart from the predominant developments of Pop art and Minimalism, her work anticipated the more process-oriented art of Eva Hesse and Bruce Nauman, who emerged a few years later. Her signature wall-mounted constructions consist of strips of canvas stretched over welded steel armatures in weblike arrangements surrounding a central oval void. In a groundbreaking merger of painting and sculpture, these massive, protruding-and-receding structures refer to cosmology, space travel, and the body.
Despite her early success, Bontecou withdrew from the New York art scene in the early 1970s, though she continued to work. Her sculpture became less rough and aggressive as she experimented with vacuum-formed plastics to make flowerlike and fishlike forms. Drawing also became an increasingly important aspect of her artistic practice. From 1971 to 1991 she taught in the art department at Brooklyn College.
Bontecou was one of a generation of artists who entered printmaking through the gentle insistence of Tatyana Grosman, founder of Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE). Between 1962 and 1982, she made more than thirty prints-mostly lithographs as well as some etchings, always in black and white and echoing the concerns of her sculpture. With very few exceptions, these were all produced at ULAE. In Second Stone, a constellation of floating voids is rendered in a softly modeled, freehand style that reflects her appreciation for lithography’s proximity to drawing. For Seventh Stone, she exploited the rich blacks that are possible in lithography to create a more dramatically defined, iconic form. Although Bontecou deliberately left her sculptures and drawings untitled, keeping all interpretations open to the viewer, she used numerical titles to document her prints.
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. 144.