In Birmingham Jail

Warrington COLESCOTT

In Birmingham Jail is a mixed technique color intaglio from 1963 by American artist Warrington Colescott (1921-2018). The plate is a combination of aquatint, drypoint, hard and soft-ground etching, roulette, and letterpress photo plates. In Birmingham Jail is pencil signed, titled, dated, and editioned 1/20. It was printed by the artist on a textured, antique-white A. Millborun & Co. wove paper and the image measures 18 x 23-1/2 inches platemark. The reference is Chapin 73.

The composition is described by Mary Weaver Chapin on page 29 in The Prints of Warrington Colescott: A Catalogue Raisonné 1948-2008: “In July 1963 he began his most ambitious work to date, In Birmingham Jail, an intaglio plate incorporating etching, aquatint, drypoint, shaped plates and photoengraved plates... The subject of In Birmingham Jail, based on the civil rights struggles in the South, lambasts the racism and violence of a corrupt system. The composition is laid out in two horizontal rows of images, a device that simultaneously evokes stacked jail cells and the narrative form of comic strips. Reading the print from left to right, we see a fierce dog snapping at prisoners in the upper left quadrant, women packed tightly in a small cell in the center, and a beating on the right..." Interspersed throughout the image are photoengraved plates, including an image of school girls and the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Bart Starr, action caught in mid gesture.

Warrington Colescott, painter, printmaker, and educator, was born in Oakland, California on March 7, 1921. His parents, Warrington, Sr. and Lydia Colescott, were New Orleans Creoles who moved to Oakland in 1920. Colescott received his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1942 but further studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the United States Army during the Second World War. Upon his discharge, he returned to the University of California where he earned his M.A. in 1947.

His teaching career began the same year when he accepted an art instructor position at the Long Beach City College in Long Beach, California. Colescott made his first print, a serigraph, while at Long Beach and he taught there for two years before moving to Wisconsin in 1949. That year he began his long and illustrious teaching career at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He was named Associate Professor in 1955, Professor in 1958, and Professor Emeritus in 1986.

In 1953, Colescott attended l’Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris. He received a Fulbright Fellowship in 1957 that allowed him a year of study at the Slade School of Art in London and, while there, he worked under the instruction of Anthony Gross and learned the spectrum of intaglio processes. Colescott received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1965, a National Endowment for the Art Printmaking Fellowship in 1975, and National Endowment for the Arts Artist Fellowships in 1979 and 1983.

Collescott’s early graphics were abstractions created in the medium of serigraphy. By the early 1960s he had turned his focus on intaglio printmaking and his imagery evolved into social satire and commentary. He produced a number of narrative satires, including one on the history of printmaking.

Warrington Colescott had an extensive exhibition history and his work is included in numerous public collections including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London; the Bibliothėque nationale de France, Paris; the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Brooklyn Museum; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Chazen Museum of Art and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison; the Milwaukee Art Museum; the Carnegie-Mellon Museum, Pittsburgh; the Portland Art Museum, Oregon; the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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