Peter Milton has disorganized the dimensions of time and space in his introspective etchings, distorting the visual narratives to create multiple meanings and sub-plots. "I find my reward in the unexpected pleasures of a surprising and mysterious effect," Milton has said, "when all the knowns have finally, magically combined, to produce a completely unknown, magical end."
For Franz Bader, dean of Washington's gallery scene, the popular recognition of Miltion's work is "a very happy phenomenon." Friend and mentor to the painter-turned-printmaker, Bader encouraged Milton's talents and is undeniably proud of his gallery's current show, a retrospective exhibit of the artist's major work. "For once, quality has really prevailed," say Bader.
Peter Winslow Milton was born in 1930 and was initially educated in private schools. After four years at Virginia Military Institute, he enrolled at Yale where he studied with painter and educator Josef Albers. After Milton graduated in 1962, suspicions that he was color-blind were formally confirmed: the young painter turned his efforts to etching.
Milton's hansome and compelling black and white prints first take form through a process he calls "the dynamics of recollection." From the earliest works (like the spare "Summer Tree" and the various oriental-looking "Landscapes" and "Winterscapes") to the architecturally influenced recent compositions ("Julia Passing" and the assorted stages of "Passage," for example), the depth and scope of the artist's insight are apparent. An intuitive intellect and a vivid memory are his most important tools.
"The creative process must be enormously complex," Milton has said. "I think most of the decisions take place on an unconscious level which is consciously knowable only after the decision has been made."
A master technician and craftsman, his principle technique is derived from the lift-ground method of etching. First comes a drawing done with ink and sugar on a piece of zinc or copper. Next, he metal plate is coated with an acid-resistant varnish called the "ground." After the ground dries, the plate is rinsed with water; the varnish that covers the inked drawing dissolves, again revealing the composition.
Then the plate is bathed with an acid that etches the drawing into the plate. Direct hand engraving is sometimes added -- along with photographic transfers using light-sensitive ground -- before the work is printed in limited editions usually numbering up to 150. The etching process alone often takes weeks to complete.
The exhibit continues through March 1 at the Franz Bader Gallery, 2001 I Street NW, and can be viewed Tuesday through Saturday from 10 to 6.