Journal entry, East Hampton, New York, Spring 2002:
I worked pretty steadily through the winter, though the pictures emerged more slowly than expected. My paintings captivated me so completely that I could not “shift gears” to printmaking. I don’t recall if I alternated between the two in past years; my life since moving here feels different as well as new. (Or do I mean old, since everything except time moves slowly?) The paintings are done in rich, yet transparent oil glazes on heavy weight Arches paper, sometimes incorporating gold leaf, colored glass or shells. They are landscapes in my mind, perhaps not immediately evident to all; the colors are vibrant, almost gaudy. I wonder how they will fare; it is like sending children into the world, not knowing if they will be seen as ugly ducklings or elegant swans.
Elizabeth Delson made this personal journal entry in the forty-eighth year of what was to be her fifty-one year career as a painter and printmaker. This and her other statements
about her work will help you better understand, and more thoroughly enjoy, the images you see in this catalogue raisonné of her lyrical abstraction, her delightful figurative drawing and her thought-provoking exploration of nature, mood, literature and myth.
Liz (the name she preferred) was born on August 15, 1932 and grew up in North Plainfield, New Jersey. Her third grade teacher recognized her talent and told her she must become an artist. About this Liz wrote, “To most, Miss E. May Tennant was a finicky, aging spinster in crocheted collars and sensible shoes; to me she was a magical inspiration as well as a primary influence on my future.” When Liz graduated from Hartridge School, she told her parents she wanted to go to art school. Her parents, Julius and Emmy Pfannmuller, who had immigrated to the United States from Germany in the 1920s, were both Doctors of Chemistry with a strong belief in the importance of education, and they said she must first graduate from a good college.
An excerpt from Liz’s 2004 narrative in the yearbook of her 50th reunion at Smith College describes the direction of her career:
At Smith I enjoyed the art history lectures, but found I had no desire to become a curator, conservator, critic, connoisseur – and still less a scholar. I wanted to discover my own voice, however small, and make visible the images forming inside me. The studio courses during my undergraduate years were woefully inadequate. Later I explored painting more fully, sometimes with teachers, sometimes alone, and concluded that it is difficult, if not impossible, to teach painting.
After graduating from Smith College in 1954, Liz went to Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, to study drawing and painting with Philip Guston and Richard Lindner. She met Sidney Delson, a student her same age who had resumed the study of architecture after three years in the Army during the Korean War. They were married in September 1955 and embarked on the life of a penniless student couple. Liz worked as a textile designer, did free-lance illustration of children’s books, and painted evenings and weekends. She also worked toward a master’s degree at Hunter College, first in art history and then in printmaking with Gabor Peterdi.
Again from her Smith College Reunion yearbook:
An exhibition of Rembrandt’s graphics at the Morgan Library captivated me completely and I began to learn etching. I had the good fortune of studying with three marvelous mentors: Letterio Calapai, Gabor Peterdi and Krishna Reddy. Because of the special tools and techniques required to master the medium, etching may be more “teachable” than painting. I very much enjoyed my four years as an instructor in printmaking at Pratt Institute. Printmaking was and is a major component of my art.
In 1960, with the birth of their first child, Liz stopped being a textile designer to become a stay-at-home mom and full-time artist. She exhibited drawings, paintings and prints in juried and group exhibitions around the country, and abroad with the United States Information Agency, while she continued the study of printmaking at The New School with Letterio Calapai. In 1961 she was awarded the
Audubon Artists Gold Medal of Honor for Graphics for her relief etching Marine Forms. From 1962 through 1966 Liz was an instructor in printmaking at Pratt Institute.
Liz’s artist’s statement at this time describes the philosophy that guided her throughout her career:
Through painting and graphics I explore images to uncover the dynamic forces behind their appearance: emergence, growth, decay, metamorphosis. I try to capture the process of change in time and space, to crystallize a living moment and convey its vitality.
In 1963 the Delsons bought a house in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that provided room for an etching studio and press. With her own etching press at hand, Liz was able to form her preferred work regimen: working in private, often into the very late night hours when she was printing editions. She thrived on her explorations of printmaking techniques. Many etchings had multiple states, and the use of embossing, inkless intaglio and cutout plate assemblages were characteristic of her work. To extend her work in color etching, Liz studied color viscosity printmaking with Krishna Reddy at New York University and produced a number of etchings using that technique.
Her newspaper interviews showed a continuation of the personal philosophy of her art:
I am trying to express change – life and death, growth and decay, things beginning and things ending. (Civic News, May 1966)
If I am going to use colors, I like them clear, singing and zingy. Making etchings seem the most satisfying work for me. The image unfolds from the idea. The tools, the acid on metal: they all interact with each other, so the result is more than the process. It’s so hard to talk about it because art is meant to be seen, and felt…really on a non-verbal level. (Home Reporter and Sunset News, March 1970)
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