This article was written for Society of American Graphic Artists in 2010.
Originally published at
Reprinted by permission of the author.
By Charles Kaufman
Five hundred years is just a blink of time these days. Beyond the middle of the 20th Century, before all eyes turned to iPhones, iPads and iPods and before innovations were given nomenclature with letters and numerals — HDTV, G4, GPS, MP3 — contemporary printmaker Evan Lindquist sat in his Northeast Arkansas studio hunkered over a copper plate under a sole source of light, using a burin, an ancient tool of engravers and goldsmiths, to create images. The setting is reminiscent of the Renaissance towns of Colmar or Nuremburg, where Martin Schongauer (c 1450-1491) and, later, Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), respectively, mastered the burin. A half continent away, explorers of the day dealt with questions of math and science, royal patronage, social class and whether the world was flat. Five hundred years later, scientists have mapped every inch of the globe and rocketed into space. After 500 years of discovery, the world knows the earth is not flat and televisions are. Technology creates a metaphorically smaller world, one filled with thinner, more powerful electronic devices. Some huge, some infinitessimally small. It was a new world then and a new world now. Artists become time travelers even in creating timeless subjects.
Evan Lindquist lives in both worlds. He comes from a world of science and journeys through the calculus of art. So closely linked to Dürer in imagination, thought and skill is Lindquist, that some colleagues honestly believe that he is him. His use of the burin makes him a rarity in a world plentiful with printmakers. The roster of burin masters is quite limited relative to the number of artists who delve into the medium. William Blake, Claude Mellan, William Hogarth and Lucas Van Leyden are seemingly modern masters as the tide of art has shifted like cataclysmic movement of tectonic plates. Interest in the world of burins and copper plates waned somewhat as the 20th Century gave way to new explorations in painting and other abstractions. New School proponent Stanley William Hayter revived engraving as a serious art form during this period. Unlike the speed evident in the work of Hayter’s Atelier 17 artists, Lindquist, born in Depression-wrecked Salina, Kan., in 1936, worked in the 1960s to develop old world skills with the burin.
ETCHING AN IDENTITY
Lindquist described early pursuits as that of “an artistic scientist” and a “scientific artist.” This dual interest is a phenomenon of nature, really, and common to artist experiences from centuries past. Equally common are the family and immediate surroundings to fuel this duality. Lindquist’s childhood neighbors were scientists — one was a noted biologist — and treated the Lindquist clan as their own brood. So fascinated by science was young Evan in the fourth grade that he traded his interest in art — acquired from his aunt, a friend of Georgia O’Keeffe — for the world of biology. Yet, he maintained his enthusiasm for photography and learned calligraphy from his father. Lindquist even used youthful ingenuity to build his first photographic enlarger out of an old Thermos bottle and other scrapped objects. His habit for playful imagination yielded objects made from wood scraps, which he gleefully hauled home from his father’s lumberyard. The toy box of a kid from Kansas during World War II was filled with discarded rubber stamps, a stamp pad, large lumber crayons, wallpaper sample books and papers pulled from discarded wooden glass crates. An early print series, reflecting on lightning beckoned recollections in Kansas of the powerful storms that he witnessed while driving across Kansas. His descriptions of that experience, from the motion of wind and the dynamics of nature, impressed listeners that this artist was a remarkably observant scientist.
Lindquist’s father wanted to become an artist, but surviving the Depression required him to attend a business college, where he became proficient in ornamental penmanship. Evan observed his father’s skill intensely and carefully practiced his new craft. At age 14, Lindquist was hired to use that artistic flair and built an interest in the history of books and printing. At 19, in 1955, he picked up his first burin. Over time, he contemplated his art, working in etching, drypoint, woodcuts and wood engraving before focusing on burin engraving for intaglio printing.
“I learned from those lines, what to do, how to do it. This was the original kind of mark making. I learned the perspective of the beautiful lines of a calligrapher. Every line I ever made had that kind of elegance. (Iowa Professor Mauricio) Lasansky said my lines looked like a burin cut on copper. He said I should learn on crayon. I learned many important things about engraving and drawing from Maestro Lasansky. Over the years I have developed a set of rules: • Only a few lines should call attention to themselves and be recognizable as ‘calligraphic lines.’ Other lines will create a structure of form, elaborating on value and surface qualities. • The act of engraving an image is a contest, a battle that rages within the artist-engraver. The battle plays out on the copper plate. The combatants are The Artist’s Will and The Engraver’s Skill. Neither must be allowed to dominate the other. If I should lose control over either The Artist’s Will or Engraver’s Skill, the result would be ‘clumsy.’”
The intertwining interest in both art and science advanced through his college years, where he double-majored in art and biology. He worked as a lab assistant in biology classes and, later, taught as Staff Artist at Emporia State University. Soon, in 1958, Lindquist would share his artistic soul with his bride, Sharon, his “cheering section,” who continues to share his artistic journey.
STRANDS OF ‘GENIUS’
The grace and flair of his calligraphic hand in calligraphy translated well to printmaking. Through various series, showing everything from tight, complex, brainy fibers to figurative work, Lindquist exhibits the easy flow and strength of the calligrapher, his spirit and imagination, his will and skill. Long-time admirers of his work detect a signature style, though Lindquist resists the label in a score of series he’s created over five decades. “I have jumped from pillar to post,” he said. “I change whatever I want to change and don’t feel I’ve had a base for coming back to one thing, except for the copper plate and burin. When I look at a plate and pick up a burin. I say, ‘This is what I was meant to do. This is what I want to do.’ I don’t feel I’m myself unless I’m working on a piece of copper.”
Former students, colleagues and curators attest to his breathtaking technique and art. Jacob Lewis of Pace Prints Chelsea in New York characterized Lindquist’s work as “genius” in evaluating three pieces submitted in the 26th Print Triennial at the Silvermine Guild Arts Center in New Canaan, Conn. Lewis said he was “conflicted” in choosing just one of the three works — William Hogarth Engraves a Line of Beauty, Albrecht Dürer Engraves His Initials, and Claude Mellan Engraves a Self-Portrait — as a best of show, selected among the work of more than 500 artists. In selecting the latter work, Lewis, himself a printmaker who has worked with Robert Kipness, Chuck Close and Jim Dine, heaped high praise on Lindquist’s technique and subject matter.
Lindquist’s skill is “probably the highest level that I’ve seen in many years. It’s not necessarily just his printmaking ability; it’s also that he’s making printmaking talking about printmaking, artists talking about art. When artists talk about history and themselves and are talking about artist’s works, everyone can enjoy and have that conversation, and what happens is that there’s a group element with a generation expressing thoughts about past generations. As artists keep growing, we keep seeing more and more of that . . . . (The engraving in all three images) is just perfectly tight. He knew where he was going, and he was obsessive over his mark making and making sure it works completely all the way through. This is a solid body of work on its own. He is touching on things that we didn’t necessarily see in the past. He’s using applied space, animation and bringing in the idea of old master works. Sometimes using circle lines and creating different depth and variation of the line at certain points to produce an image actually was absolutely quite genius. Not even the artists I work with now have this kind of skill level and are pushing this idea of art talking about art, which is quite important to me.”
Michael DiCerbo, a printmaker and contemporary curator at The Old Print Shop in New York, said he began following Lindquist’s work in 1978. “Almost no contemporary artist exclusively uses the technique he uses in his work,” DiCerbo said. “He’s an important artist and quite respected, although I don’t think many people in New York know him personally.” That’s because Lindquist chooses to stay beyond the gravitational pull of urban meccas. And few people in New York are the least bit curious about Jonesboro, Ark., where the earth is flat with rice fields, horizons are wide, train tracks line the landscape and the town of 63,000 people has a college town charm. It is located an hour West of Memphis, Tenn. Lindquist quickly became a fixture on the mid-America art scene. Patrons in the region easily recognized the wonder in his work; and former cross-state colleague, Ed Bernstein, once a printmaker at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, exhibited with Lindquist in 1979. Currently at the University of Indiana, Bernstein said his colleague “was and probably still is one of the finest engravers ever.“
For 40 years, Lindquist’s work and words etched their way into a couple of generations of artists. Chilean engraver Alberto Meza teaches printmaking at Miami-Dade College. “I can feel his warm and always encouraging advice to get the best out of a copper plate,” he said. Artist Gima Jansen of Paragould, Ark., studied printmaking under Lindquist for seven years and in that time she became enamored by his “patience, persistence, discipline, his passion and his great imagination.” Artist Sarah Sears, a former student now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., recalls a time in graduate school when she thought her mentor and “hero” was being too easy on her. Without tougher criticism, how would she improve, Sears wondered. Lindquist told the aspiring artist her assessment was mistaken. “I expect perfection,” he said, “but I don’t put a time limit on achieving it.”
Former student Ralph Slatton, an artist who teaches printmaking and drawing at East Tennessee State University, says he still tries to live up to Lindquist’s “mantra”:
• To rise early and do a full day’s work;
• Don’t do anything half-heartedly;
• Anticipate the gremlins that live in the studio; don’t let them ruin your prints, and
• Above all, study hard and embrace your subject with great passion.
“There’s a singular charm in Evan’s work. The sensitivity is so evident, whether he’s depicting members of his family, showing birds trapped in cages, creating miles of bundled cord and mazes of internal labyrinths or etching the calligraphic locks on the head of his beloved Tibetan Terrier, Dali. Evan embraces his subjects with sheer love . . . . You experience his consummate masterful touch in everything. He teaches how to maximize the picture plane. Every line feels purposeful, necessary, and monumental. His images command their space and demand their reason to exist. His orchestration of light and dark are impeccable. He can express an army of detail with a few implied and well-placed lines. In essence, I study Evan’s work whenever I want to make my images powerful.”
Dean Clark is a long-time friend and intimately knows the world of printmaking as owner of Graphic Chemical and Ink Company in Chicago. He calls Lindquist a “remarkable man” on many fronts. “I have always been amused and amazed at the whimsical approach that Evan could bring to a medium as structured as engraving,” said Clark, who recalls witnessing a lengthy Lindquist presentation on how to sharpen a tool. “It was a true masterpiece. Evan made the basic drudgery of sharpening tools interesting and easily understandable to a group of beginning students in a way that I’ve never seen before or since. It was classic Evan.” Clark wished he’d made a videotape of the presentation. His wish became a reality when Evan created a series of videotapes about sharpening a burin and the engraving process to the actual creation of select engravings. They are available to the world on YouTube.
Ruth Wehmer Hawkins, an Arkansas State colleague and collector of Lindquist’s work, gravitates toward work that addresses fantasies and dreams. “I really like his strange etching titled Hallucination, which he did back in the late ‘60s to prove to his students that they didn’t have to be on an acid trip to unleash their imaginations.” The first piece Hawkins purchased was Bird Cage, which shows a bird struggling to escape from its cage, even though the cage is beautiful and ornate. “It reminds me . . . of the artificial boundaries that often limit us,” she said.
LABYRINTHS OF STRING
In the late 1960s and 1970s, Lindquist said he was contemplating the physical universe. A critic called them “metaphors of the mind.” Interestingly, after he started working on the “Contemplation” series, he noticed a physicist discussed the universe, using a “string theory,” whereby all matter is composed of strings. Lindquist in his own work called them fibers, though today he refers to them as strings. “As I brought out in my video on Labyrinth Valley, those are all labyrinths,” he said. “Some day I’m going to hang one of these things with a red pencil to see if someone can find the end. I’ve constantly kept the idea of labyrinths in mind as a background for what I do.” The engraving Journey also advances his labyrinthine vision. Only the introduction of a Charles Méryon-esque trail of birds gives them a context.
They prompt questions and answers of how he works. “My working process is one of calculation,” he said. “I calculate what is happening. I calculate what I need with that and calculate the next step. A lot of times I’ll go back to the beginning and start over and get ideas worked out on paper. I work through sketchbooks. When I feel I have a beginning place, I actually go to the copper plate. I find the old sketches suggest new journeys. The journey, for me, moves along, and I go wherever I can get into.”
Unique to any accomplished printmaker ever, including Durer, is that Lindquist has pulled virtually every impression from almost 300 sets of prints during a half century of work. Of the various sets and series of carefully stored inventory are more than 9,300 impressions resting in public and private collections, almost all pulled independently by Lindquist. He did produce image on stone and left the printing to students during a college visit in the ‘60s. “The problem (with having others assist with printing) is that my method of working is one where I feel I have to have complete control over it because I change my mind constantly,” he said. For this practice, Lindquist likely stands alone in the history of art. Sometimes Lindquist follows a timeless path into the future. Other times, he travels in the past . . . with his friends of the past 500 years.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Evan Lindquist is a recipient of the 2010 Society of American Graphic Artists Lifetime Achievement Award. He was Professor of Art at Arkansas State University, teaching Printmaking and Drawing for 40 years. He has received the Arkansas Governor's Lifetime Achievement Award and was named one of Arkansas State University’s 100 most distinguished faculty in the first 100 years of the institution’s history. He received Emporia State University's Distinguished Alumni Award.
His work has received more than 60 awards throughout the country. His prints have been featured in more than 60 solo exhibitions, included in more than 100 group exhibitions and more than 200 juried exhibitions.
His prints are in the permanent collections of numerous important institutions nationally and internationally. Among them are: The Albertina, Vienna, Austria; the Arkansas Arts Center, Little Rock; The Art Institute of Chicago; the Boston Museum of Fine Arts; Gallería degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy; Joslyn Art Museum, Omaha; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Dublin, Ireland; Reina Sophía, Madrid, Spain; Nelson-Atkins Gallery, Kansas City, Mo.; New Jersey State Museum, Trenton; New Orleans Museum of Art; Portland Art Museum, Gilkey Center for Graphic Arts, Portland, Ore.; San Francisco Art Museum, Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts; St. Louis Art Museum; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.