PIECES FROM ONE OF THE TOP AMERICAN PRINTMAKERS OF THE 20TH CENTURY
By John Hutcheson Jr.
John Hutcheson is my father. I could say “was,” as he passed away a year and a half ago. I choose to say “is” because in so many ways he persists – maybe none more important than through his printmaking.
The prints my father made contributed to the spirit and direction of contemporary art. He was far more than just a player in the world of fine-art printmaking. The aspects that John brought to it were fully representative of the way art has always been made and a precursor to how it would be created going forward. He worked on significant pieces with important artists and participated in moving the goalposts during an extraordinary period in American art.
This period in which John played a major part also became a Golden Era of printmaking. Art has always been linked with science; indeed, art-making relies on science. Throughout history, scientific innovation precedes and provides new means for artistic innovation. At times, scientific and artistic innovation occur simultaneously in the same piece, which then influences new pieces that again expand both the scientific and artistic envelope. This progression describes a Golden Era. A masterful engineer, my father embodied the link between art and science, working on seminal pieces that redefined the medium again and again. John was not inspired to make his own images – he was inspired to master the science of printmaking. He used his mastery to produce the images of artists and to push the medium to suit the directions those artists were going with their work.
Additionally, John worked with artists who looked at printmaking not as an extension of their preferred medium, but who embraced printmaking as the unique art form it is. Artists like Frank Stella, Helen Frankenthaler and Robert Motherwell are all known for their printmaking. They chose to work with John both for his considerable skill, but equally for his personality and character. He was the full package: the consummate team member, likeable and genuine, and the go-to guy. Everyone always wanted him in their corner, and he always made people feel like they could succeed. He also had the technical know-how to help them succeed. I know this because as his son, I experienced this expertise – it is what made him a wonderful father.
With this disposition, he allowed the artists he worked with to soar. They could do the things they weren’t supposed to do in printmaking; they could transform the medium for their images. John’s devotion, consideration and collaboration allowed these artists to outperform themselves. He combined printing techniques, which allowed prints to be layered with varying texture. He experimented with papermaking to create huge pieces of fine-art paper, and pioneered the use of commercial printing techniques like using plates instead of stones and commercial presses that could handle making runs of giant prints. This allowed the artists to make prints in the sizes they needed. My father loved to mix ink, and his technique in applying it gives his prints their own unique look and quality.
Ultimately, John was a master of the technique, the science, of printing. You can see it in the prints. The ink is luscious and vibrant – it almost looks wet. But he was also a master of collaboration. He knew how to build on what had been done before to push the boundaries and the medium. He knew how to run teams and execute the creative direction, and when things required his own hand, he used it deftly. As such, he was chosen to be a part of projects and collaborations that provided a prototype for the collaborative efforts that are so prevalent in the art world today.
As fine-art printmaking succumbs to the digital world, the specific techniques may not be used, but the spirit of collaboration – of artist teaming up with engineer to push the visual by pushing the technical – pervades. John Hutcheson is a part of that line, a line that runs through the Renaissance, through Gutenberg, through the explosion in American Art in the 20th century and on into the massive scale multi-team productions of today. John Hutcheson represents the age-old bond between art and science: the bond between Artist and Technician.
This story appears in the Spring/Summer 2018 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine. Click here to subscribe to the print edition.