Making a deep impression: New exhibit looks at Barry Moser’s art through the lens of his teaching career

  • The great whale from “Moby-Dick”

  • Self-portrait as the Mad Hatter — Image courtesy of Hampshire College

  • Barry Moser's illustration of Moby-Dick, 1974, with limited edition with unique binding collection of Madeline Moser and Timothy Parsons is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's wood engraving Vance's Cat Tommy, 2005, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the Hampshire College campus. Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's Treehouse, 1974, etching, top, and the digital remastered, 2016, bottom, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's Treehouse, 2016, bottom, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's Treehouse, 1974, etching is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's illustration of Moby-Dick, 1974, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's Frankenstein illustration is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's illustration of Moby-Dick, 1974, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Along with his illustrations, some of Barry Moser’s tools are on display in the Hampshire College Art Gallery in the Harold F. Johnson Library building. Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's wood engraving self-portrait as Odysseus, 1981, is on display in the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's illustration of Moby-Dick, 1974, is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's Frankenstein illustration is on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Nolan Boomer, Art Gallery Summer Intern, looks over the Barry Moser exhibit of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser's illustrations Self-Portraits, in Deep Shadow with a Sporting Hat, left, as Odysseus, center, and as The Mad hatter, right, are on display of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Barry Moser exhibit of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

  • Nolan Boomer, Art Gallery Summer Intern, looks over the Barry Moser exhibit of the lower level of the Harold F. Johnson Library building on the campus of Hampshire College Tuesday, July 5, 2016 in Amherst. —Andrew Whitaker

Staff Writer 
Published: 7/13/2016 3:05:26 PM

Barry Moser doesn’t need much introduction.
The Hatfield artist and printer has long been known for his unique wood engravings and his design work and illustrations for hundreds of books, including limited-edition, hand-produced copies of “Alice in Wonderland,” “Frankenstein,” “Moby-Dick” and other classics. His art is displayed in collections around the world, from the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to The British Museum in London.

So what might be a new way of showcasing some of that work?

The Hampshire College Art Gallery has tackled that question through the school’s recent acquisition of a varied collection of Moser’s work from his friend Vance Studley, a designer, printer and teacher of letterpress printing and bookbinding.

Taking a broad look at Moser’s career, the exhibit offers something of a retrospective on his art. Engravings, prints, watercolors, posters and drawings are all in the mix, along with copies of limited-edition books, such as “Moby-Dick,” from Moser’s acclaimed Pennyroyal Press.

For instance, the show features some of Moser’s early engravings, including “Phorkyads,” a 1971 image of the skull-like heads of three sisters, who between them share one eye and tooth. The image, drawn from a scene from Goethe’s “Faust,” reflected Leonard Baskin’s influence on Moser’s work, according to exhibit notes.

Baskin’s art, Moser once noted, “awakened my proclivity for the simple, immediate, and demanding nature of black and white — so much more demanding than color as it leaves you with only two places to go: darker and lighter.”

The exhibit, “Design & Build: The Art of the Book,” also includes a number of important loans and rarely-seen works from the Williston Northampton School, where Moser did some of his earliest teaching, beginning in 1967. There are also selections of Five College student work supervised by Moser, and works by Hampshire College alumni book artists.

In particular, the show is designed to look at Moser’s art through the lens of his 49-year teaching career, including his current position at Smith College, where he teaches art and printing.

Paying tribute 

What especially appeals about the exhibit is the mix of some of Moser’s noted works, such as an iconic 1983 self-portrait of his face in deep shadow, with various outtakes and B-sides from his career: early sketches of later works, pieces from aborted projects, personal works that showcase his droll sense of humor.

Consider “Portrait of Tommy, Vance Studley’s Cat,” an engraving Moser made in the early 2000s as a tribute to his friend. Studley, who printed many of Moser’s woodblock engravings from the early 1990s until 2012, slowly acquired a rather eclectic collection of the artist’s work, and he eventually decided it made sense to find it a permanent home where more people could view it.

Then there’s the way Moser likes to poke fun at himself in his engraved self-portraits. In one, he’s a somewhat doleful looking Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s “Illiad.” In another he’s the Mad Hatter; he peers out from beneath an enormous top hat, one eye hidden beneath the brim, the other a bit — well, mad-looking.

The Mat Hatter self-portrait dates from the early 1980s, when Moser published his version of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” which won the 1983 American Book Award for Design and Illustration. The book featured a darker sensibility than did past versions of the story, including a mop-topped, dark-haired Alice modeled on one of Moser’s own daughters.

In the Hampshire exhibit, Moser pays tribute to artists like Baskin who taught or inspired him early in his career. The show includes his portraits of a number of these people, including printers Allen Mandelbaum and Art Larson.

He also offers a portrait of the late EM Beekman, a former University of Massachusetts Amherst professor and poet, with whom Moser did one of his earliest artistic collaborations. In 1973, he contributed two woodcut images of bears to the text of Beekman’s poem “Totem.”

A display of art connected with Moser’s “Moby-Dick,” including a copy of the massive book, includes early pen-and-ink sketches of whalers with slabs of whale flesh hoisted on hooks on a boat. Yellowed photos of a similar scene, which Moser used as a model, are mounted alongside the sketches.

Along with Moser’s intricate wood engraving of the giant whale itself, the display includes two letters — hand-written letters! — between Moser and a lithographer, Jasper Johns, who wrote to him in 1983 about his love of this edition of “Moby-Dick” and his interest in getting some individual prints of the art from the book.

Sadly, Moser replied, no prints were available because of problems that had occurred during the book’s production. But that didn’t stop Johns from composing a somewhat abstract lithograph, “Ventriloquist,” in 1985 and dedicating it to Moser; it’s now part of the show.

Read, read, read

In addition to artwork, the Hampshire exhibit offers a number of examples of Moser’s printing, like announcements of the publication of some of his Pennyroyal Press books and quotes from notable writers like W.E.B. Du Bois. There are also two videos, one in which Studley demonstrates how he printed some of Moser’s material, and another that shows Moser at work on various projects.

As well, the exhibit features an area where visitors can sit on a couch or upholstered chairs and browse through a collection of books on printmaking, illustration and related topics. As exhibit notes put it, Moser calls illustration a “thief’s profession,” and he’s long surrounded himself with images from different artists, magazines, the internet and other sources to seek ideas for his own art.

But there’s more at work than that, Moser has noted, pointing to lessons he’s passed on to his students over the years. Any serious illustrator, he says, must draw inspiration from words themselves and from other sources such as music.

Artists will learn more from reading writers like Flannery O’Connor, John Gardner and Annie Dillard “than [they] will ever learn from taking art classes or reading lengthy essays on simple subjects like this one,” he writes in his 2006 book “Wood Engraving,” quotes from which are part of the exhibit.

“You must read,” Moser adds. “You must understand words and the craft and art of putting them together if you want to move people’s souls and minds and hearts.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Design & Build: The Art of the Book,” a varied collection of work and related material by Barry Moser, will be on display at the Hampshire College Art Gallery, on the lower floor of the Harold F. Johnson Library, through Sept. 30. Gallery hours are Mondays through Fridays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,

 

  

 

 

 

   

 

 

 

 




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