By Fran Sikorksi
After 30 years of collaborations with well-known artists, master silkscreener Gary Lichtenstein is recognized as one of the most gifted printmakers in the world. He’s also known for his own paintings, which are color-saturated abstracts This spring, he is readying a show that will open at the Ridgefield Guild of Artists in May. A member of the guild’s board, he has donated some print-making equipment to the group and is also planning to teach silkscreening at the art center. During an interview at his Ridgefield studio barn, Mr. Lichtenstein described himself as “an artist’s artist” and said he is not happy that his craft and labor are becoming a lost art because of modern technology.
A Connecticut native who has returned home after living in California for many years, Mr. Lichtenstein said he began exploring the silkscreen process while at the San Francisco Art Institute and soon “recognized the collaborative potential inherent in the discipline.” In 1978, which he called “a turning point in my career,” the artist started his own printmaking studio, SOMA Fine Art Press in San Francisco, as a forum devoted to creative collaboration among artists from around the world. His guiding philosophy, he said, was “focused on respecting artistic integrity within the spontaneous process” of producing prints. He worked with artists in his studio, always aiming to maintain the integrity their work while translating a painting or an idea to the silk screen medium. Among the artists he’s worked with most recently (from 2001 to 2005) have been Tom Christopher, Irwin Hasen, Andy Hammerstein, Dominick Lombard, Al Hirschfeld, and Roy Weinstein.
While establishing SOMA Fine Art Press, he sold his paintings to support his studio, as he worked to make his vision a reality This was a growth period for his own work, as what were thick, abstract expressionist shapes were becoming more ethereal. The artist said he was letting go of his teachers’ influences and experiencing an evolution in his own work. However, he maintains contact with his teachers and past work, never letting it be forgotten.The artist/printmaker’s unique style led
to a new designation, “color expressionist,” as he emphasized color in his painting and prints, removing the objective imagery.
This carries over into his printmaking of other artists’ work, he said. “It is with a devoted passion for color that I work with precision the endless use of creative techniques to translate onto paper the lines, textures and the qualities of an artist’s brush stroke that exist in the original painting, used simply as a guide during the process.” Mr. Lichtenstein’s preparation for his career began when he was a high school student in Connecticut in the late 1960s. His teenage “idols” were artists like Robert Motherwell and Jasper Johns, not rock stars. He attended Syracuse University where he majored in oriental philosophy and religion; received a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute where he had an apprenticeship with Robert Fried and documented and curated his art estate; and received an M.F.A. in art and media technology from Antioch College.
The artist is looking forward to connecting and collaborating with area artists now that he and his wife, Sarah Henderson, a writer, and their 14-year old son, David, have made Ridgefield their home and he has set up his studio.In addition to his upcoming Ridgefield show, Mr. Lichtenstein is also readying an exhibit that will open at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in Cross River, N.Y., in September.