Door, window, table, basket, mirror, rug. These six simple elements—found in many a living room and throughout the glossy pages of any home furnishing catalogue—are the components of a series that Richard Artschwager began creating in 1974. Artschwager repeated these same elements over and over to explore a variety of artistic approaches across media, but particularly in works on paper. In some of these compositions, the six shapes are arranged in a space that utilizes perspective, as if the artist were depicting an actual or imagined interior. In others, the forms are stacked one atop another, or arranged in a ring; occasionally the components are stretched or bloated to form near abstractions.
In Artschwager’s print Interior #2, currently on loan to the Ricard Artschwager! retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the various elements are positioned within a perspectival space. In the foreground, a monumental basket sits atop a rug, with a window and door placed on the wall at the right, and a mirror and table in the background against the far wall. They are slightly distorted, but still recognizable. Distinctive in this print is not Artschwager’s distortion of the objects, but rather his addition of a wood-grain pattern.
The pattern is heightened by Artschwager’s use of drypoint. This print technique requires the artist to drag a sharp needle across the surface of a metal plate in order to create the contours of his or her composition. In doing so, the displaced metal is pushed up on either side of the drawn lines, creating a sharp, rough “burr.” The artist applies ink to the plate, pressing it into the drawn contours, then wipes the surface of the plate clean; the burr, however, captures some of the excess ink. When printed, the contours therefore produce what is often referred to as a “velvety” texture, luscious and not as crisp as an etching or engraving.
The faux-wood pattern that Artschwager drew on the metal plate, then printed on paper, is reminiscent of his use of Formica (often bearing a faux wood-grain) in his sculptures. In these, he utilized the industrial product, often found cladding surfaces in modern interiors, to create sculptures that resemble interior furnishings, such as tables or bureaus.
Artschwager used the components of the door, window, table, basket, mirror, and rug as the framework for a years-long graphic exercise to challenge himself to mentally explore various artistic techniques and methods while using the same subject matter. In this way, these works can be seen as conceptual counterparts to the works of artists such as Sol LeWitt, who at the time was utilizing combinations of directional lines and colors, and Mel Bochner, who used number sequences to explore the relationship between thought and sight.