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Sol LeWitt

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Sol LeWitt
(Hartford, Connecticut, 1928 - 2007, New York, New York)

Sol LeWitt was born September 9, 1928 in Hartford, Connecticut to Abraham and Sophie LeWitt, Russian immigrants. After his father, a physician, died in 1934, his mother moved to New Britain where LeWitt attended elementary and high school. He later attended Syracuse University to study art and received a BFA in 1949.

LeWitt served in the U.S. Army in Japan and Korea where he took an interest in the study of Oriental shrines, temples and gardens. After his military service he moved to New York City and attended the Cartoonists' and Illustrators' School, later The School of the Visual Arts. By 1954 he was employed at Seventeen Magazine as a Photostat editor. The following year he was employed as a draftsman at I. M. Pei's architectural firm, an experience that proved quite influential in the development of his art. Between the years 1960 and 1965 he worked at the Information and Book Sales Desk at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, as well as the night receptionist at the Museum staff's entrance, befriending art critic Lucy Lippard who then worked in the Museum library.

Sol LeWitt began his fine art career as a sculptor. His first group show was in 1963 at St. Mark's Church in New York City and in 1964 he was included in another group show at the Kaymar Gallery. The influence of Bauhaus, De Stijl and Constructivism was apparent in these two exhibits of LeWitt's work, which also showed evidence of his later style of geometric reliefs, box forms, and wall structures.(1) Between 1964 and 1971 he taught at art schools that included The Museum of Modern Art School, The People's Art Center (1964-67), Cooper Union (1967-68), School of Visual Arts (1969-70), and at the Education Department, New York University, Washington Square (1970-71).

Between 1966 and 1970 LeWitt participated in many group exhibitions of Minimal Art. By 1967 he had published his statements on Conceptual Art in Artforum (June 1967) in an article titled "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art" and again in May, 1969, in "Sentences on Conceptual Art" in Art Language. LeWitt had his first one-man show in May of 1965 at the John Daniels Gallery. Although starting out as a sculptor, in 1969 he began to create wall paintings. One of his first was done in 1968 and titled "Study after Piero" referring to Piero della Francesca's "The Discovery of the True Cross" (c. 1448).

LeWitt's employment in I.M. Pei's architectural firm influenced his attitudes toward the role an artist may or may not play in the creation of his works. In "Sol Lewitt Drawings, 1958-1992" ,Trevor Fairbrother states,"[the work at Pei's architectural firm] gave him his first understanding of the importance of the process that leads from the idea to the end result. His early realization that he did not have to be the craftsman to be the originator or conceiver left him with no qualms about having his structures fabricated and painted by skilled metalworkers and his wall drawings executed by people willing to learn the procedures."(2) This attitude embodies the Conceptual Style with which LeWitt is associated. LeWitt believed that the idea is paramount to the physical art work itself. "When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair. The idea becomes the machine that makes the art."(3) Lewitt writes out directions for his works so that they can be reproduced multiple times and in different places, yet, according to him, no two pieces will ever look the same because of the nature of human error. "The draftsman's contributions are unforeseen by the artist, even if the artist is the draftsman. Even if the same draftsman followed the same plan twice, there would be two different works of art. No one can do the same thing twice."(4)

In addition to creating concepts for wall painting installations, LeWitt periodically worked at Crown Point Press beginning in 1971. Crown Point Press, founded by Kathan Brown in 1967 and based in the San Francisco Bay area, is a collaborative printmaking workshop which explores printmaking using the intaglio process. The attraction of working primarily with intaglio was a "use of processes that have no commercial value and need all the help they can get to stay alive."(5) Artists who have worked there over the years include Wayne Thiebaud, Chuck Close, John Cage and Richard Diebenkorn. LeWitt was first sent to Crown Point in 1971 by Robert Feldman who had opened Parasol Press, Ltd. in New York, 1970. At Crown Point Press, Brown and her team of assistants do the actual printing of the plate for the artist and act as publishers of the work. This complements LeWitt's idea of the role of the artist as conceptualizer of the art work. LeWitt completed over three hundred etchings, developing stylistically over the years from his early geometric line etchings to colorfully curvy spit bite aquatints of the late 90s.(6)

LeWitt's early prints from Crown Point are similar in style to that of his early wall drawing designs. They focus on clean, crisp, straight lines. When doing wall drawing designs, LeWitt used a very hard graphite pencil, normally 6H to 9H. A parallel in the clarity of the line quality achieved in the wall drawings passes over into his early prints done at Crown Point. [See, for example, "Squares with a Different Line Direction in Each Half Square", 1971 made during his first trip to Crown Point.] His etchings evolved over time and became more curvilinear, an effect seen in works such as "Arcs from Four Corners", 1986, "Color & Black #3", 1991 and "Wavy Brushstrokes", 1995.

(1)Alicia Legg. Sol LeWitt, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1978, p.12.
(2)Trevor Fairbrother. Sol LeWitt Drawings,1958-1992. 1992, p. 1.
(3)Quoted in "Paragraphs on Conceptual Art," 1997. Reprinted in Sol LeWitt. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978, pp. 166-167. Originally published Artforum, June, 1967.
(5)Quoted from "Doing Wall Drawings", 1971. Reprinted in Sol Lewitt. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1978, p. 169. Originally published in ArtNow, June, 1971.
(6) Karin Breuer, Ruth E. Fine, and Steven Nash. Thirty Five Years at Crown Point Press: Making Prints, Doing Art. Berkeley, CA: The University of California Press, 1997. p. 2.

7/15/99 Heather Tracy/rev. MLA 12 Aug 1999

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