A Celebration of All Things Cultural, Artistic, and Entertaining in Madison
Feb 10, 2010
A Local Legend
Warrington Colescott’s rich career is nearly as interesting as the artwork he has prolifically created over the last sixty years. And both are celebrated in a new catalogue raisonné and exhibition at Grace Chosy Gallery.
Colescott, who is eighty-eight years old, grew up in California and was a professor in UW–Madison’s art department from 1949 to 1986. He was one of a handful of artists who expanded the possibilities of printmaking and helped distinguish Madison as a place where the medium flourished.
Today, Colescott’s work is part of permanent collections in museums ranging from the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Gallery of Art, Museum of Modern Art, Art Institute of Chicago and Tate Modern—and he’s still creating prints in his home studio in Hollandale.
The just-published The Prints of Warrington Colescott: A Catalogue Raisonné, 1948–2008 (by Mary Weaver Chapin and published by the UW Press in collaboration with the Milwaukee Art Museum) documents all of his 345 editioned prints, as well as chronicles the artist’s life and artistic pursuits.
An accompaniment to the book is the latest exhibition at Grace Chosy. It’s a special showing of prints and paintings by the artist, who’s enjoyed a longtime relationship with the gallery. The show serves as an excellent overview of Colescott and his style: his complex compositions filled with witty, political, humorous and biting details.
“They go all the way from 1953 to a watercolor he just did last year preparing for a series of prints,” says gallery director Karin Ketarkus.
Colescott’s colorful, dynamic and detailed work employs a variety of social, political and historical themes. Raft of the Titanic reveals all sorts of horrors: bodies sprawled across a wooden raft, sea creatures attacking survivors, the ship pitched at a steep angle behind them. Meanwhile, Out My Garden Window is set in Madison, during a 1960s riot that prevented Colescott from taking a visiting artist to campus. It’s a more serious scene, with rows of houses in the background echoing the rows of people engaged in the riot.
And in the lighter The History of Printmaking: Lunch with Lautrec, Colescott plays with the famous style of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, resulting in an image that is immediately recognizable and also quite funny.
Colescott sometimes creates imaginary situations in his prints, Ketarkus says. But when it comes to historical subjects, he’s a thorough researcher, often including details that viewers might not notice. He also, however, takes artistic liberties at times to make a point.
“He’s always poking fun at the foibles of mankind,” Ketarkus says. “He does have a ribald sense of humor.”
It’s this sense of wit, combined with a grasp of history, creative techniques and the sense that anything is possible in his images, that makes Colescott’s prints such a joy to explore. There’s always something new to see—and usually it’s something surprising.
Says Colescott in a gallery press release: “My art is sometimes intrusive. I do ask for intellectual understanding. I deal in comedy and sometimes laughs are hard to come by. I have lived through five major wars, depressions, assassinations, plague, oppression, genocide … sometimes it is hard to get a laugh. I am always looking for those humorous moments to rise above the gloom.”
The exhibition of Warrington Colescott’s prints and paintings continues through February 27. For more information, call 255.1211 or visit gracechosygallery.com.
Photos—Suicide of Merriwether Lewis, The Last Judgement: Debarkation and Raft of the Titanic—courtesy of Grace Chosy Gallery.