In the 'My German Trip' series, Colescott encounters Dürer (above), Madonna.
Warrington Colescott, the acclaimed artist who taught at the UW from 1949 to 1986, once called himself a "research printmaker and mad-dog attack artist."
That description sums things up pretty well. Colescott is known for his prodigious, inventive approach to printmaking technique, but also his sharp satirical wit. Drawing on the tradition of social critics throughout art history - think Hogarth, Goya and Daumier - Colescott has cast his eye on politics and culture in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Now 88, Colescott will be the subject of a major retrospective opening this summer at the Milwaukee Art Museum. In the meantime, those who want to delve into Colescott's world can do so with a lavish new book and a show at Monroe Street's Grace Chosy Gallery.
The book, The Prints of Warrington Colescott, is a full-color, 340-page compendium of 60 years of art-making. Meant to accompany the MAM show, it is jointly produced by the museum and University of Wisconsin Press. Mary Weaver Chapin, MAM associate curator of prints and drawings, wrote the book. The Chosy show, on display through Feb. 27, features a selection of prints from Colescott's career, from early abstraction to more recent work.
What makes Colescott's work so appealing is its mix of erudition and irreverence. After all, you have to know your art history in order to goof on it. Part of his "History of Printmaking" series, the print Picasso at the Zoo is included in the Chosy show. We see good ol' Pablo taking his family to the zoo, surrounded by visual quotations from the Spaniard's masterworks.
In the background are the anguished horse from Guernica and the gaunt man and woman from Frugal Meal, who are lounging morosely at "Café de la Zoo." In the foreground, as a little boy exclaims, "Mommy! A Minotaur," we notice that Mom, Picasso's lover Dora Maar, has a serious case of "Picasso face," her features jumbled in cubist style.
The print is vintage Colescott: funny, crowded with allusions to art history, and using figures who often spout little bits of dialogue, almost comic-book style.
In another print from the Chosy show, taken from the 1992 "My German Trip" series, Colescott imagines himself in decadent, Weimar-era Berlin. His tour guide is the artist George Grosz, himself a master satirist of the harshest sort. Past and present collide as Madonna takes the stage at "Kafe DePrave." "Ja gut stuff Madonna," grunts Grosz; "George this is depraved, even gross," Colescott replies punningly.
The artist, who works from a home studio in Hollandale (where he lives with his wife, fellow UW art prof and printmaker Frances Myers), is part of that select group of Wisconsin artists with international reputations. You'll find his work in the collections of the Met, the National Gallery of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and other museums around the world. Madisonians shouldn't miss a chance to see these prints so close to home.