Lecture Presented, September 15, 1984, "Seven Decades: Sam Glankoff's Working Methods" Curator, Jeffrey Wechsler,
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Museum
SAM GLANKOFF "A RETROSPECTIVE EXHIBTION"
Working in self-imposed isolation, Sam Glankoff did not show his work publicly between 1928 and 1981; the latter date marked the year of his first one-man show, at the age of 87. Supporting himself through commercial illustration and design work at Impulse Items, a creative toy company, Glankoff never tried to sell his art. This exhibition is the first to present the full range of Glankoff’s output, in terms of chronology, style, and media.
Sam Glankoff was born in 1894 in New York City. He painted still lives, portraits, and landscapes as a youth, but did not begin to experiment with woodcuts until the 1920s, when he exhibited his art in both media a the Whitney Studio Club. For fifty years he drew sharp distinctions between his personal art and the commercial work he produced to earn a living. While Glankoff’s early imagery was representational, by the later 1940s it had become abstract. These complex compositions were eventually distilled down to simple and very personal symbols. Although much of Glankoff’s later work appears at first to be completely non-objective, its imagery is usually derived from the human form. Whole figures and anatomical fragments are often so abstracted as to become virtually unrecognizable. This process was for Glankoff a method of depicting the essential, universal quality of human beings; he sought a spiritual “humanness” that related to similar intentions perceived by Glankoff in archaic or primitive forms of artistic expression. Frequently Glankoff’s own, representational compositions, from as early as the 1920s, served as the basis for his figure-derived abstractions, and one can follow the progress of certain motifs through decades of continued simplification.
Around 1970, Glankoff developed an innovative process of printmaking. He replaced the woodcut medium’s traditional block of wood with multiple plywood boards scaled to the handmade Japanese paper that he used. By printing several layers of color with water soluble inks and casein, he was able to achieve a unique luminosity of surface. Glankoff defined his technique as “using a printing method to make a painting,” and therefore his work of this type is now referred to as “print-painting.” Using a permanent pigment—at first enamel, and later acrylic—he painted designs on boards placed edge to edge to simulate the final composition. Once dried, the designs on these boards became the template for placement of the water-based colors. Glankoff then separately inked the boards and printed the design onto each piece of paper. He never painted directly upon the paper. Not only did he prefer the effect he achieved with this transfer process, but he chose to remain within the limitations of an indirect procedure. Eventually, working this way made it possible for Glankoff to work large, enabling him to make six-and eight-panel pieces. This meant that if each section was inked six times (a conservative estimate for some works), an eight-panel piece would have been through a total of forty-eight printings. Once all sections were completed to Glankoff’s satisfaction, they were joined together to form the completed piece.
Glankoff did not use a mechanical press; he printed his work using hand pressure. he devised methods and apparatus that avoided any need for assistance through08t the printing procedure; this reflected both the artist’s shyness and sense of independence. Though these personal qualities contributed to the long-delayed exposure of Glankoff’s work, they were also fundamental to the sustained effort and vision which resulted in so large a body of highly individual and accomplished art.
Background Information: Art Exhibition
Sam Glankoff (1894-1982) A Retrospective
PRESS RELEASE PDF