Barnett Newman made no works on paper in the 1950s, but as the decade turned
he started to create drawings again, and learned printmaking. His series of
lithographs titled 18 Cantos, made in 1963-64, is displayed in the
center of this room. The size restriction imposed by the lithographic press
presented a keen challenge to an artist greatly invested in the effects of
scale, and led Newman to use the margins of the pages, in addition to color
and composition, to define the character of each canto. The series, dedicated
to his wife Annalee, is the artist's only work that openly expresses his great
fondness for music. Describing their interaction as a set, Newman's printed
preface declares that "each canto adds its song to the full chorus."
In 1968 Newman turned to etching for the first time. The resulting Notes,
initially intended to be only studies, offer rare insight into the developmental
process of an artist who left behind very few sketches. Newman's strokes and
scratchings reveal his growing familiarity with the copper plates on which he
drew, and from which the printer would make the final sheets. The intimate
scale of these prints eloquently chronicles Newman's intuitive way of working,
something possible to forget in the powerful presence of his massive paintings.
The two larger, untitled etchings of 1969 transpose what he learned from Notes
into single, authoritative statements.