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Letterio Calapai’s 1946 Underground

July 24th, 2014
Letterio Calapai Underground, 1946

Letterio Calapai Underground, 1946

Underground by Letterio Calapai (1902-1993) is a dynamic work that shows a keen awareness in the methods of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, incorporating a combination of engraving, soft ground and aquatint techniques.  Calapai’s vivid reaction to the crush of people commuting on the subway at 42nd Street is well matched to the rich surfaces and charged engraved lines.  The subject brings to mind the social realist works of the WPA prints of the 1930s which Calapai knew first hand from his work in the New York print shop.  It is also interesting to consider this work in the context of Benton Spruance’s 1937 series of lithographs, The People Work.  Views to multiple levels of trains and spaces bring to mind the imagined 18th Century interior Prison etchings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi.  In Calapai’s hands the space is flattened out, and a sense of folded space is created by forced angles.  We are above and below the action, seeing it all simultaneously.

 

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