AQUATINTS BY JAY McVICKER, WOOD-ENGRAVINGS BY LEO MEISSNER -- Through March at Bethesda Art Gallery, 7950 Norfolk Avenue, Bethesda.
While pretty calendars and reproductions adorned the parlor walls across America during the 1920s, '30s and '40s, quality printmakers could hardly give away their works, let alone sell them. The nostalgia boom has revived interest in long-neglected prints by artists like Jay McVicker and Leo Meissner, whose works are on exhibit at the Bethesda Art Gallery.
Timing is the crucial lfactor in creating an aquatint; subtlety of tone is the desired effect. McVicker is a master of both. The acid resist is a powdered rosin that's sprinkled onto a metal plate and then warmed. This makes the particles adhere and forms a speckled "ground." Darkness of tone depends on the length of the acid bath. A split-second too long and the plate is ruined.
Strongly affected by his Oklahoma countryside, McVicker's eerie prints are muted scenes of cotton gins, oil wells, lonely country houses and desolate landscapes. Soft grays and brooding blacks dominate the prints. Swirling, dramatic clouds give the prints a touch of the macabre. It's easy to imagine fiendish murderers lurking behind the grizzled barren trees or ghosts hovering above.
Contrasting with these are Meissner's sharply detailed wood-engravings. Laminating two-inch squares of hardwood, sliced across the grain, ensures a smooth, durable surface. It takes a small chisel to carve the thin, delicate lines that bring life to a leaf or blade of grass. The gradation of color comes from the width of the lines and the space between them. Meissner's dramatic seascapes and cheerful landscapes are so intricately appointed that they come alive: Thunder resounds when waves crash against the jagged rocks off the coast of Maine. In "Catskill Country," cultivated fields flex and writhe as if they were muscle sinews, while winds breathe movement into majestic, swaying trees.