David Smith A Letter 1952

  • Not on view

The foremost sculptor of the Abstract Expressionist generation, David Smith created steel sculptures using welding techniques he learned while employed at a Studebaker factory in Indiana. Not dedicated solely to sculpture, Smith was a devoted painter, draftsman, and printmaker, and he saw these practices as integral to his art-making process. Throughout his career, his works on paper served a multiplicity of roles: as preparatory drawings, sketches after existing sculptures, independent compositions, and exercises to keep his artistic skills honed. He used printmaking as another form of drawing, which he once referred to as the "life force of the painter." Although he made thirty-six printed compositions, in many instances only one or two impressions of each exist.

Smith arrived in New York in 1926 and enrolled in classes at the Art Students League. He began making prints soon after, creating linoleum cuts of street scenes and landscapes. His exposure to African sculpture and to the art of the European avant-garde had an impact on his work, as seen in a series of Surrealist-inspired etchings of the 1940s. In 1952 Smith made his first lithographs. A natural fit, lithography allowed him to work in a comfortable and familiar fashion by using a brush to paint on the stone as he would on a sheet of paper. Six lithographs made at this time bear the closest affinity to Smith's drawings, and he signed them as he did his contemporary drawings, with the date and Greek version of his initials visible at the top left center of this work. In this print, Smith created the sense of a correspondence letter whose contents are just out of reach, written in a hieroglyphic or pictographic language that combines the suggestive abstract and non-specific figurative aspects of his sculpture.

Publication excerpt from an essay by Sarah Suzuki, in Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004, p. 128.
composition: 16 15/16 x 23 3/8" (43.1 x 59.4 cm); sheet: 20 1/4 x 26" (51 x 66.1 cm)
David Smith, Bolton Landing, N. Y.
Margaret Lowengrund, Woodstock, N. Y.
approximately 13
The Associates Fund
Object number
Drawings and Prints

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