For an online version of this review, click here

Robert Motherwell: Prints from the Artist's Studio
Bernard Jacobson Gallery, London

by Jackie Wullschlager
Financial Times,  22nd September 2012

"I belong to a family of black painters and earth colour painters in masses, which would include Manet and Goya and Matisse." No other mid-century American artist would have defined himself in such European terms; none other so sensuously and richly continued the language of Parisian modernism in an abstract idiom. That textural richness and immediacy was also carried over to Motherwell's prints, especially those made in his studio, away from the contraints and deadlines of a printer's commercial workshop. A substantial group of these rarely seen works, made in small editions, is the subject of this wonderful, varied show.

Motherwell bought his own etching and lithography press for his studio in Greenwich, Connecticut, in 1973. Making prints here, surrounded by his paintings and collages, allowed a fruitful exchange between media as well as an opportunity to experiment with different paper. Black dominates and many pieces recall the painterly velvety strokes and masses of his "Spanish Elegy" canvases: "Elegy Fragment", "Bloomsday", "Wanderers." "Lorca", made in 1991, the final year of Motherwell's life, is a particularly fine balance of violence and grace. Extraordinary, too, is the modulation in tone by which black-and-white compositions such as "Los Angeles Sun" or "Glass Garden" breathe light and openness, while others - "The Cavern", for instance - are dense and claustrophobic.

Figurative elements are never far away: flat monochromes are variations on Motherwell's "Open" series, with pared-down lines suggesting the classic modernist motif of the open window or door - "Grey Open with White Paint", "Slate Grey Pintura", "Beige Open" - while "Dance III" has a remnant of a figure in movement. And occasionally there are bursts of brilliant colour - black ruins against an orange glow in "La Casa de la Mancha"; the bright red "Seaside Studio". All achieve terrific expressiveness with economy of means and an intimate tone - evoking what Motherwell called "the world of feeling where art originates."

To October 6