Robert Blackburn: Creating Art, Creating Community

April 18 - July 31, 2024 Online Exhibitions

This exhibition delves into the artistic achievements and contributions of Robert Blackburn (1920-2003). The printmaking workshop he founded served as a welcoming space for American and International artists of diverse backgrounds to connect with like-minded individuals, fostering an environment for learning and producing fine prints. Blackburn prioritized the workshop's operation over his own art making practice, dedicating himself to providing opportunities that nurtured fellow artists which often placed his own work in a secondary role.

Blackburn emerges as one of America's most significant 20th Century catalysts, tirelessly working to make available and maintain a well-equipped facility, and somehow he kept alive his own practice as the maker of an extraordinary body of work. We celebrate his genius and legacy by sharing his own excellent prints alongside those created by artists who benefited from his expertise and the exemplary standards he set.

Blackburn is long recognized as a teacher, master printer, and founder of his eponymous workshop. This exhibition aims to rectify the relative obscurity of his individual artistic narrative within the discourse of American Art. Beyond his role as a master printer, Blackburn played a vital role in the evolution of printmaking in the twentieth century. His prints and life trajectory trace rich passages from the ideologies of the Harlem Renaissance to the WPA print experience, from the Art Students League to the New York School, from uptown to downtown New York, to Paris and the birth of the phenomenon of the Contemporary print publishing world.

Categorizing Blackburn's work proves challenging. As a Black artist, he did not confine himself to social narratives or attempt to serve as a spokesperson for Harlem. Instead, Blackburn created lyrical, abstract graphic works that engage in dialogue with various international influences that captured his interest.

We’ve selected more than 85 fine prints by 42 artists anchored by a core collection of 20 lithographs, etchings and woodcuts created by Blackburn dating from the workshop's inception in 1948 until the end of his life. Included are a set of progressive proofs showcasing Blackburn's process in developing a print, along with multiple impressions from his final viscosity etching monoprint series, Organic Things.

The exhibition incorporates works by colleagues paying homage to Blackburn, such as Ron Adam's Blackburn and Tom Laidman's Evening at Blackburn’s, in order to fully acknowledge his legacy. Additionally, we include works by Ben Wigfall, (1930-2017), who took inspiration from Blackburn. Wigfall modeled his workshop, Communications Village, on Blackburn’s and created a community in the process.

Our selection includes works by Riva Helfond, Minna Citron, Elizabeth Catlett, Jacob Lawrence, Pennerton West, Will Barnet, Fred Becker, Betty Blayton, Norman Lewis, Romare Bearden, Kathy Caraccio, Arun Bose, Michael K Williams, Vincent Smith, Vivian Browne, Dindga McCannon, Ed Clark, Beauford Delaney, Betye Saar, Joyce Wellman, Krishna Reddy, Terry Haass, Ronald Adams, Tom Laidman, Ronald Joseph, Mel Edwards, Norma Morgan, Harry Hoehn, Doris Seidler, Kathryn Metz, Camille Billops, Eldzier Cortor, Earnest Crichlow, Stanley Willian Hayter, Helen Phillips, Sergio González Tornero, Herbert Gentry, Emma Amos, A J Smith, Raymond Saunders, Margo Humphrey, Otto Neals, Mavis Pusey, and Ben Wigfall.


The content of this exhibition draws heavily from three significant past exhibition catalogs: Robert Blackburn Passages, curated by Deborah Cullen in 2014,  Bob Blackburn’s Printmaking Workshop Artists of Color, curated by Noah Jemison in 1992, and Right place, Right time: The Rest is History, curated by Marianna Olinger, Morgan William, with an interview with Cathy Caraccio in 2021. Additionally, we acknowledge the valuable contributions of articles by Samella Lewis, Bob Biddle, Maudra Jones, and Richard Powell in The International Review of African American Art, Volume 6, Number 4, c. 1984 & Volume 10, Number 3, 1993.


View Online Exhibition