Peter Voulkos, John Altoon, Ed Ruscha, and Billy Al Bengston crossed many paths in the late 1960s and 70s, but their major works share too little in common to be shown together outside of the largest geographic or generational exhibitions. Everybody knows Ruscha’s printmaking efforts, many know of Bengston’s, far fewer know of Altoon’s prints, and hardly anyone knows that Peter Voulkos, the giant of ceramics, made a series of lithographs in 1979. We have tugged on that common thread of printmaking as the basis to gather these four artists together at Iris Project, open to the public on September 9, 2020. Please note: There will be no opening reception.
Peter Voulkos (1924-2002) was a hugely influential figure in the arts, a towering figure in ceramics whose reach across the artworld still resonates. He made a suite of five prints with Master Editions in 1979 that reduced his earthy, dense pillars of strength to brushstrokes on paper, releasing his revolutionary clay bodies from their massive physicality. Not one to accept physical limitations, one of the suite incorporates holes punched through to reveal a bright red backing sheet.
Before his untimely death in 1969, John Altoon defined what it meant to be an artist for a generation, painting wild biomorphic abstractions and graphically comic illustrations. His series of prints entitled “About Women,” accompanied by three poems by Robert Creeley, reveals underappreciated elements of self-doubt and raw emotionality in his work.
Ed Ruscha is a soft-spoken man of many words: subtle, ironic, or deadpan. Over the course of decades, only a few pieces have resisted words, including the Domestic Tranquility series. The story goes that during a heated argument an egg, a plate, a clock, and a bowl found themselves airborne en route to his head, immortalized forever in print.
In 1973, Cirrus produced five works to raise money for the Neighbors of Watts (NOW): four by Billy Al Bengston and one by Ed Ruscha, printed by Ed Hamilton. The money raised from the original sale of these prints provided child care and community centers for children in South Los Angeles. The central Dracula or iris motif in these prints would also later serve as one of the inspirations for Iris Project.