A Superb Impression of Robert Blackburn’s Scarce and Important Print For ULAE
Robert Blackburn. “Color Symphony,” 1960. Color lithograph. Edition of 15. Image size: 15 3/4 x 22". Sheet size: 18 1/2 x 25". Signed and dated by artist in pencil, l. r.: Robert Blackburn 1960. Titled in pencil by artist, l. l.: “Color Symphony” and inscribed: Ed – 15. Fine condition with strong colors.
New York City artist Robert Blackburn (1920–2003) created this masterpiece of color lithography while serving as the first master printer at Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE), the groundbreaking lithographic venture founded in 1957 by Tatyana and Maurice Grosman in West Islip, Long Island. At ULAE, Blackburn taught an emerging generation of artists, including Jim Dine, Helen Frankenthaler, Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, and Robert Rauschenberg, how to make lithographs. His own predilections and facility with the medium dovetailed perfectly with Tatyana Grosman’s mission to provide the best young artists with the setting and the opportunity to produce fine art prints, a medium that many of them had never explored before. Blackburn’s role was key, as Grosman needed a master printer who could take on the challenges of solving difficult technical problems and developing new techniques in order to realize each artist’s vision.
In the 1960s and 1970s, thanks in part to Blackburn’s genius as a printer, ULAE enjoyed a swift rise to prominence among curators and collectors and achieved a reputation for pushing the boundaries of the limited edition print. ULAE, along with June Wayne’s similar project at Tamarind Lithography Workshop in Los Angeles, has been credited with the American revival of fine art lithography in the mid-20th century.
Blackburn came to ULAE with an illustrious printmaking career already well established. Growing up in Harlem in the 1920s and 1930s, he was influenced by the artistic currents of the Harlem Renaissance, as well as those of European abstraction and Mexican modernism. Among his colleagues were the artists Romare Bearden and Jacob Lawrence. He learned lithography as a teenager at the WPA-sponsored Harlem Community Art Center and later attended the Art Students League in New York on a scholarship, where he worked with painter and printmaker Will Barnet. In 1951–52, he and Barnet collaborated on an innovative suite of color lithographs that were featured in ARTnews.
During this period, he began to forge his signature abstract style and in 1948 he opened his own studio, the Printmaking Workshop, which became the oldest and largest nonprofit print workshop in the United States. He left ULAE in 1963 to operate his workshop full-time, providing an open graphic studio for artists of diverse social and economic backgrounds, ethnicities, styles, and levels of experience. Under his direction, the Printmaking Workshop became one of the most vital collaborative art studios in the world.
With Color Symphony, the lithograph offered here, Blackburn reached a highpoint in his own work in color abstraction. The complex, varicolored applications of the lithographic stone display Blackburn’s fluid command of the medium. The resulting image, with its overlapping washes of color and witty references to process, set the stage for new lithographic “look” created by ULAE, which in the 1960s would define the American “graphics boom.”
This is a superb impression of one of Blackburn’s most important and scare lithographs, in mint condition.
Ref.: Deborah Cullen and Katherine Blood, “Creative Space: Fifty Years of Robert Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop,” exhibition at the Library of Congress, 2003; online exhibition at www.loc.gov/exhibits/blackburn