Works
Overview

Stewart Nachmias, a Brooklyn boy, became adept in two uncommon crafts growing up; puppetry and ventriloquism. He also plays the guitar but making art has always been his central drive. Here too he was specific and focused on printmaking. In his early 20s he was making his own work, supporting himself by printing silk screens with a company on the 12th floor of a building on West 21st Street. It was a failing enterprise though and the staff were canned. They heard an explosion while packing up and water started pouring through the ceiling. “We grabbed our stuff and ran down the stairwell,” Nachmias says. The problem was plain to see from the street. “The water tank had collapsed onto the roof,” he says. Finding something usable in disaster is what artists do and Nachmias got a triptych of images from the experience. Water towers have been part of his pictorial vocabulary ever since.

 

    Nachmias continued to sideline, printing the work of others, Peter Max being the first, then Keith Haring and Raphael Soyer for whom he began printing limited editions in the early 80s. He worked on this project in a Washington Street print shop run by Richard Royce, who had his own ambitions. “He wanted to make the world’s biggest woodcut,” Nachmias says. It was Royce who introduced him to the technique of making woodcuts with cast paper pulp. Nachmias was at once captivated by the possibilities. This changed the course of his life.

 

    Blocks of wood into which Nachmias has so deeply gouged his images that they themselves have a sculptural resonance can be seen in his Park Slope studio. These are the blocks which he inks up and into which he then presses dyed blobs of pulp paper when making a print. “I like to make it pop off the surface,” he says. “When you release it from the block, it’s like pulling a tooth.” This process is rich in an element often useful in art-making: accident. “They aren’t easy to make,” Nachmias says. “It takes a day to print the cast. And a week to dry.   There’s always a bit of touch-up on every piece”.

 

   How often is he surprised by how an image turns out?

 

     “Every single time. They are all one of a kind,” he says.

 There’s a rawness to the images, an intensity that distances the work from the purely craftsy and Nachmias acknowledges that he was greatly influenced by German Expressionists, such as Kirchner. The Expressionists weren’t big on humor though, and it’s this that animates his art, but this too is of a specific sort. Images in his studio included Girlfriends of the Band, based on an old photograph, another entitled 48 Clowns, which includes signs reading Barnum & Bailey and Ringling Brothers, and there were several images of Coney Island, such as one of the Cyclone ride, “I don’t know if there’s a water tower up there but I threw one up there”, he said.

 

  Had he been to Coney Island? 

 

     “I go there all the time,” he said. “I went there first as a little kid. What with my ventriloquism, the clowning, the puppetry, I guess I would have been there for sure a hundred years ago when it was one of most famous places in the world. Maybe in one of the sideshows!”

  These are not just powerful images, they are images which pulse with the populist warmth of a world before social media.

 

  • Anthony Haden-Guest

   



Video
Biography

Stewart Nachmias creates cast paper woodcuts that celebrate the energy of urban life in expressionist images drawn from his own experiences as a musician, performer and artist. Nachmias was born in 1958 in the borough of Queens in New York City, and grew up in Franklin Square, Long Island. As a child he began developing his interest in art along with ventriloquism. Introduced to etching in high school, Nachmias went on to major in printmaking at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After studying at New York University, he worked in Bob Blackburn's Printmaking Workshop, where he met a wide range of artists. He then helped establish Studio 827, a printmaking atelier, located on Union Square in New York.

While developing his own unique graphic techniques, Nachmias worked printing the etchings, engravings, woodcuts and serigraphs of artists including Keith Haring, Peter Max, Krishna Reddy, Dorothy Dehner and Raphael Soyer. Chief among his artistic influences, Nachmias cites the German Expressionists, particularly Beckmann, Kirschner, and members of the der Brucke group, whose vigorous line and social awareness are reflected in his own work. He singles out Picasso for his inventiveness as a printmaker, and both Reginald Marsh and Red Grooms for their evocations of life in New York.

In the 1980s Nachmias created a series of large-scale etchings of subway car interiors and passengers which captured the grit and melancholy of city life. These etchings were created A la Poupee , applying color directly to an inked intaglio plate. This technique gives Nachmias's prints a lively, painterly quality. During this period, Nachmias showed his work in galleries in New York's East Village, including Vox Populi and the 9th Precinct Gallery. In the 1990s the artist began the cast paper woodcuts that he continues to create. His deeply carved wood blocks are both inked directly and act as molds for the hand-dyed paper pulp which Nachmias applies to the surface.

The result is a print in low relief, with rich color embedded in its dimensional surface. Nachmias's work has grown to encompass images of exuberant musicians, puppet shows, and working men, all recalling aspects of the artist's own life playing in a rock band, performing for children and on the job in printmaking studios. There are works which show in vivid colors the spirit of the individual in an urban environment full of danger and excitement. A recent group of three 36"x48" woodcuts focus on the nostalgic charms of Coney Island. And an ongoing series of mandalas, devoted to music, puppets, love and the creative brain give a sense of sacred completeness to the artist's antic vision.

Nachmias has shown his work in many exhibitions, including recent solo shows at
the Coral Springs Museum of Art (FL), the Wichita Falls Museum of Art (TX),
the Alexandria Museum of Art (LA), Texas A&M University, Longview Museuem of Fine Arts (TX), SUNY Oswego (NY), the Banana Factory (PA), Long Island University Brooklyn (NY), and group exhibitions at the Susan Teller Gallery Soho (NY), MDH Fine Arts Chelsea (NY), the Watermark Cargo Gallery Kingston (NY) and the De Cordova Museum (MA).

Exhibitions
Video