"65 Years of Printmaking" at the Museum of American Art celebrates the ongoing career of Werner Drewes, resident of Reston.
But Drewes, 85, could never be called just a local artist. Drewes came here by way of Germany and the Bauhaus: His work consistently shows his training there in the early '20s in architectural form and function. Later in that decade he studied painting under German expressionist Wassily Kandinsky; Drewes never has shaken that influence either, sustaining it from one wave of German expressionism to the next.
The Drewes formula generally is to combine these influences with a block of redwood. Like sculptors who feel that the figures they form somehow pre-exist in a block of marble, Drewes feels that being "bound to a certain wood" can determine an artist's style. He also has tried intaglios, lithographs and many paintings. But of all the 110 works in this show, the woodcuts are the most striking.
In subject matter and theme he leaves his roots, but never in spirit. Throughout, Drewes wrestles with the arrangement of forms and the arrangement of colors, while maintaining his German expressionist vitality.
When he took up residency in New York in the '30s, he produced a series of woodcuts -- one of the earliest portfolios of abstract prints in America. Lyrical musings, the 10 woodcuts and the portfolio cover are on display here. Called "It Can't Happen Here," the series exalted America, where he felt he would be allowed a freedom of expression denied his German counterparts.
Drewes has tried portraits -- his self-portraits are the strongest. He seems able to make the unkindest cuts of all only on himself. Four of grim expression here show the artist aging, remorselessly.
He's done Manhattan, grain elevators and color landscapes. Even color woodcuts of forests and harbors have architectural supports -- a hidden agenda for geometric lines. The landscapes often have a central perspective where verticals fall in place; pines and redwoods cathedral themselves overhead.
In more recent works, returning to pure abstractions, Drewes toys with geometric forms -- the interchanges of colors and problems of composition. "Mechanical Ballet" and "Tilting Power" explore the dynamics of two sides of an abstract coin.
Especially in Drewes' geometrics, something is always going on. The active lines tyrannize the eyes, but painlessly. WERNER DREWES: 65 YEARS OF PRINTMAKING -- At the Museum of American Art through December 24.