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Armin Landeck

Rooftop and Skylights, 1969
Copper engraving

18" x 20 7/8”
Edition of 100

Museum purchase, 1972

 

“I like straight lines; even the impersonal character of ruled lines becomes interesting to me when contrasted with less rigid, more freely engraved areas.”

~ Armin Landeck, from The Art of the Print (1976)

 

Although his name seldom, if ever, appears in American art history surveys, not to mention those focused on the art of printmaking, Armin Landeck’s Rooftop and Skylights (1969), along with a handful of other artworks dating back to the 1930s, shows a major Modernist talent at work.

While most of Landeck’s (1905-1984) oeuvre is comprised of very conventional, realist images, we do see hints of Edward Hopper’s light-and-dark shadow-play and solitary individuals in works like Village Nocturne (1933) and Lonely Street (1936), Charles Sheeler’s tightly-cropped Modernist cityscapes in Manhattan Canyon (1934), and Martin Lewis’s nocturnal New York street scenes in Cat’s Paw and Pop’s Tavern (1934).

After marrying in 1928, the Landecks spent two years traveling through Europe, where they saw both classic architecture and modern art. They visited Germany, Italy, Turkey and France, Landeck etching all the while. In Paris, he was introduced to the work of Picasso and other Cubists, who, along with Italian Renaissance artists, were his major creative influences. The Landecks returned to the States with the onset of the Great Depression. Unable to find architectural work, Landeck and fellow printmaker Martin Lewis opened the School for Printmakers in New York in 1935. The following year it closed. It was, after all, the height of the depression.

In 1941, Landeck began studying with Stanley Hayter at the new School for Social Research, where he began etching. In 1942, he rented a studio in what was once the old Delmonico Hotel, where he worked until 1958. Along with Rooftop and Skylights, the hotel provided him with subject matter for some of his most accomplished prints, such as Rooftop with Ventilators (1942) and Stairhall (1950).

Landeck’s early prints produced in Europe, like those of most burgeoning young American artists on the obligatory European tour focused on the romantic (i.e. traditional) subject matter at hand (ruins, street scenes, and portraits of local peasants). It wasn’t until Landeck returned to the US that he embraced the idiom of his own nation—country scenes around his Connecticut home as well as that more Modernist image of adoration: the skyscraper.

At Hayter’s Atelier 17, under the master printer’s watchful Surrealist eye, Landeck began experimenting with line in a way that calls to mind the Analytical Cubism he saw several years earlier in France. Hayter introduced him to an etching tool known as a burin, which creates a hard, defined line like those we see in his later etchings.

His experimentation with light, line and shadow begin to manifest in 1947 with Shadowed Street and Manhattan Moonlight, and in 1950, the above-mentioned Stairhall, one of his most accomplished works. The energetic sense vibration inherent in these etchings also calls to mind the Italian Futurist works he likely encountered while visiting Italy, which evoke energy and movement through repetition and fragmentation.

As his prints progressed towards abstraction, we see light and shadow depicted through geometric shapes and the tight repetition of radiant lines. Landeck never fully stepped away from realistic representation, though, for traditional artistic representation maintains a firm foothold in even his most Modernist of moments.

His explorations with etching produced a unique and vibrant body of prints that can best be described with words like symphonic, tonal, radiant, rhythm. This handful of prints—maybe twenty-five in all—present a world in which light and shadow have mass and weight, a real kinetic energy. One could do no better than to quote the authors of Landeck’s catalogue raisonné, June and Norman Kraeft, to describe Rooftop and Skylights: "The sun is alive on that roof. The pattern of shadows it casts on the floor of the roof, on the walls to the left, up the unending window wall at the rear of the picture forms the counterpoint to the structures that create them, and suddenly a new gift from the sun, the glory of geometry on a rooftop, is born, and the shadows beguile in a symphonic dance with which only an artist of Landeck’s stature could transform a New York rooftop" (12). For this occasional peruser of the WFMA’s permanent collection, Landeck’s Rooftop and Skylights is one of the most captivating artworks I have had the pleasure of exploring, and the Kraeft’s description the most edifying.

 


Works Consulted

Kraeft, June and Norman. Armin Landeck: The Catalog Raisonné of his Prints. June 1 Gallery, 1977.

Watrous, James. A Century of American Printmaking, 1880-1980. U of Wisconsin P, 1984.


Rooftop and Skylights from the Permanent Collection of the Wichita Falls Museum of Art at MSU Texas

 
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