Design and Build: The Art of the Book
Hampshire College Art Gallery
Through September 30, 2016.
Illustrators often bring out the snobbery in art critics. Much of the time when you read the words, "competent draftsman" or "skilled illustrator," it really means, "But of course, it's not real art."
I hope you are not one of those misguided souls, but if you are, allow me to suggest Barry Moser as the antidote to your malady. More specifically, get thee to Hampshire College to sample the sublime Moser wood blocks, posters, illustrations and prints currently on display. Anyone who can gaze upon these with anything less than respect and awe is more Philistine than critic. Drawn from its permanent collection, Design and Build inspires, delights and, yes, illustrates the many splendors of Barry Moser (1940-). The Tennessee-born Moser came into his own in Western Massachusetts during the 1960s, first as a teacher/artist-in-residence at the Williston-Northampton School, and later at Smith College, where he is now based in his semi-retirement and is rightfully lionized as one of the nation's finest artists. Don't be swayed by anyone who denigrates draftsmanship or illustration; Moser's work has found its way into such august collections as those of the Met in New York, the Library of Congress, the Vatican Library, and the British Museum. His design for the Pennyroyal Caxton Bible led the National Gallery in Washington, DC to bestow upon him a singular honor: he is the only living artist to whom it has devoted a solo show. Moser has also won a National Book Award for his illustrations for an edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, though I much prefer the way in which he conceptualized Herman Melville's Moby Dick. (Confession: Moby Dick is on my list of most overrated novels of all time, though Moser's illustrations infuse life into parched sections of the novel in which Melville chronicles whale processing.)
The Hampshire College show captures Moser's many moods: his investigations of faith, his To my eye, his block prints invoke what I call nouveau medievalism and, if one overlooks monetary value, I'd prefer owning a Moser print to most Renaissance masters. I especially marvel over how much emotion Moser conveys in heavily inked shapes, cross-hatching, and meticulously rendered detail. Though it's personal taste to be sure, I like Moser's black and white works more than those in color.whimsical side, his penchant of playing the trickster, his self-deprecating humor, and his love of spinning fantasy.
This fine overview of a half century of Moser's work reinforces the old saw that a picture is worth a thousand words, but it also forces us to reconceptualize it. The old adage suggests that printed word and image are at odds with one another; Barry Moser's prints enhance how we respond to text. It's as if he takes our half-formed imagination and renders it in full detail. If that's not art, the word is without meaning. –Rob Weir
PS: Apologies for the reflection on these images. One downside of the Hampshire show is that it is poorly lighted. The spot track lighting of the gallery simply needs to be redone as it flatters almost nothing everything displayed in this space (lower level of the colelge library).