I am a printmaker who works from landscape, rural, urban and suburban based often on where I've lived or places that have meant something to me. In graduate school (Yale MFA, 1977) I studied the 17th Century Dutch landscape painters who essentially invented the idea of landscape for its own sake. I admired the liberties they took with what was a very flat land, inventing mountains, cloud shapes, and great aerial vistas while depicting everyday life in Holland. Hercules Seghers, a less well-known artist combined painting and prints to make the first mono-prints. Like artists of the past, I want prints to be infinitely flexible and responsive to the idea rather than compromising the idea to fit the limitations of the media.
I start with a watercolor study or drawing to scale. From the studies I make monotypes, a technique I learned from a master: Michael Mazur, while I was an undergraduate student in California. Unlike a genius like Caravaggio, who can draw from life and embellish and make a perfectly composed rendering of space and form to fit a canvas, my philosophy is closer to the late Rembrandt etchings in the play of give and take and willingness to change an image and let it evolve from the first state. This is particularly true with my black and white prints.
I've always been drawn to landscapes since my first New York City print, Elevated Freeway to the Southern California landscapes of 1978-79. Later, as I moved from one teaching job to another I would continue to record what I thought of as typical American landscape images. Antecedents like Hopper had taught us to look at the mundane and try to make it extra-ordinary. Although Hopper's are more psychologically charged than what I'm interested in, I find the pleasure of looking and composing the landscape relative to my place in space, holds significance for me.
Recently, I completed three-color prints based on a series of watercolors drawn from a tower overlooking a railroad yard in North Platte Nebraska. These three prints, Intersection Looking South, Fields Looking South East, and Cloud Shadow I embody what I have been striving for in the color printing process as well as in the process of composing landscape.
To my eye most color prints can't compete with paintings because they often don't incorporate the many subtle variables of color like a painting can. Although the process has some limits, it can accommodate color variations like value (or tone) and intensity (saturation). I initially learned to simply intersect two colors to make a third. Now I intersect all three primary colors to make as many variations as I can.
Watercolor gave me the idea to try to mix the three in the etching through varying the amount of ink on each area of the copper plate. Like a watercolor, color etchings are "lit" by the paper from behind and the white of the paper shines through creating the values. Color mixes on an etching where one color intersects and overlaps another on the paper during printing, creating new hues and the nuances of color. Therefore, when you use all three primaries, you can make (for example) many different kinds of green by mixing varying amounts of red to the different greens making them become warmer or cooler in temperature.
The technical aspects of color printing now have almost as many options as drawing, composition or subject matter. And like the images I've made in the past I hope to continue to find new ways of developing the ideas of the printmaking process within these simple parameters.
Elizabeth Peak Prints and Drawings
By Alan Shestack
Exhibition catalogue, 1982
Liz Peak's prints are beautifully crafted. In many, etching, drypoint, stippling, and burnished aquatint are combined to achieve subtle tonal gradations, sometimes creating areas of "patches" of form which heighten the abstract, two dimensional effect or which soften the strict geometry of the compositions. One is sometimes reminded of Edward Hopper's prints in terms of their profoundly lonely mood, their graphic style, and their "mundane" subjects. Liz Peak certainly follows in the tradition of printmakers of the American scene, but she is more interested than most of her American predecessors in the taut structure of her images, concerned with tension and balance between black and white, up and down, left and right, and the play between the individual physical marks of her stylus and the underlying geometry of the subject. She might be inspired by a dusty gas station in California or a grain elevator in Ohio, but in reacting to a specific American landscape and giving it form in graphic terms, she creates images which transcend specific times and places and become generalized visual statements. In all her work, she seems to be striving to reconcile the specific everyday subject with its broader symbolic meanings.
Elizabeth Peak: Landscape Through Multiple Lenses
By Mark Jenkins
Washington Post 01.22.16
The title of Elizabeth Peak's show at the Washington Printmakers Gallery, "Landscape Through Multiple Lenses," underplays the Charlottesville, Va., artist's abilities. She doesn't simply detach one lens and affix another. Her work demonstrates mastery of three different modes: collage, line etching and three-plate color printing.
Peak spent much of her childhood in the Great Plains, which she recalls in such detail-rich monochromatic etchings as "Approaching the Rockies," a widescreen vista that stretches a cloud-stuffed sky across four sheets of paper. Peak also uses this process for vivid portraits of animals, notably a slumbering giraffe.
The three-color works, which meld pigments with the subtlety of watercolor, include an expressionist vision of a rainforest in Washington state. (It's similar in tone to an exuberant collage, "Large Pond," in which slivers of paper become reeds, ripples and leaves.) More often, Peak employs the tricolor print for small-town scenes, such as a view of Charleston, S.C., at what may be dawn or twilight. In mood, these unpopulated cityscapes are akin to the depictions of lonely prairie vignettes. Yet they were crafted with techniques that are, impressively, worlds apart.