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Elizabeth Peak. American Artist, born 1952

Artist Elizabeth Peak is an accomplished etcher in all its forms plus she excels at monotype, collage and watercolor. She transforms landscapes into color abstraction compositions.

Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Portrait, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Vase with Flowers, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Vase With Flowers, 2015
collage
12 x 15"
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Winter Trees, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Winter Trees, 2015
collage
12 x 12"
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, The Large Pond Kiawah, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
The Large Pond, Kiawah, SC, 2014
collage with hand colored papers
22 x 30"
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Rainy Day Backyard, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Rainy Day, Backyard, 2014
collage
14 x 11"
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Winter Trees in Morning, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Winter Trees in Morning, 2016
oil monotype, 26 x 23"
Elizabeth Peak, Artist, Large Pond, artline
Elizabeth Jayne Peak
Large Pond, 2015
collage
15 x 10"

Artist Statement

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 Jayne Peak


Essays/Monograph

Elizabeth Peak Prints and Drawings
By Alan Shestack
Exhibition catalogue, 1982
Bowdoin College
Brunswick ME

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.


Biography

My story as an artist probably begins with my parents untimely death when I was 20. At the time I was splitting my time between science and art, but after, I only took classes relating to what would become my career. Over the years my early study of scientific illustration helped me understand the work of the great Printmaker/ Painter, Albrecht Durer. From there I began working my way through the history of graphic art, studying the work of past masters and applying their ideas to my efforts.

That process has lead me to this time where, even though I have basically used the same two techniques in infinite variety, I am an etcher. I have painted in watercolor, primarily with the goal of making studies for my color prints, but drawing is my first love and real natural ability, if there is such a thing. Now, in hopes of expanding my work in landscape images I have added two new items to the mix: woodcut and collage.

My goal in landscape has been to work with the abstract elements that constitute landscape composition and make a meaningful connection with our current world. In that I mean trying to convey the viewers experience of the image. Early on I was puzzled by how to imply time passing in an image and Approaching the Rockies was my first major effort in that area of interest. This line etching is a 180 degree view of the Rockies from the east on four panels, like a Japanese screen.

Another element of conveying experience is how one organizes the image inside the rectangle. In this one tries to create a space through which the viewer moves, rather than a static space. Connecticut Avenue was a primary effort in this regard. The underpass is centrally located and all the variety of the image comes in the black and white patterning. I drew this one from life so the image is reversed in the print.

Currently my interest is in creating color relationships in the landscape as dynamic as the black and white. Adding color is like adding a forth dimension. It’s comparable to throwing a deck of cards in the air and seeing the order when it lands. In color etching one generally works with three color plates, red, yellow and blue. The blue plate is usually where one begins and uses the blue as the tonal plate. The other two plates contribute the variety of colors possible on the color wheel. I also try to have all of the colors influencing each other, in that a small film of red might intersect a green (made of blue and yellow) in order to reduce the green’s intensity. The Nebraska prints, Intersection and Fields exemplify this idea.

The woodcuts and collages contribute to abstracting the forms in the landscape through their simplicity and directness. These are in early stages but I hope to finalize them this winter and spring.


CV

born 1952, Fort Belvoir, VA

education
1977 Yale University, M.F.A., New Haven, CT
1972-1974 University of California, B.A., Santa Barbara
1970-1972 University of Nebraska, Lincoln
permanent collections
American University, Katzen Art Museum, Washington DC
Arkansas State University, Little Rock
Ashville Art Museum, NC
Bone Creek Art Museum, David City NE
Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME
Duxbury Art Complex, MA
Honolulu Academy of Art, HI
Kearney Museum of Nebraska Art, NE
Kent State University, OH
Library of Congress, Washington, DC
Morehead State University, KY
National Institute of Health, Bethesda MD
Santa Cruz Museum, CA
Smithsonian Museum of American Art, Washington, DC
Southwest State University-San Marcos Gallery, TX
University of Arizona, Tucson
USIA, Berlin Germany
Worcester Art Museum, MA
Yale University Gallery, New Haven, CT

Reviews

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.


Bibliography

60 Years of North American Printmaking 1947-2007, David Acton, 2009

The Best of Printmaking: An International Collection, Lynne Allen and Phyllis McGibbon, 1997

Boston Globe, Dancing Dishes…Affable Animals, April 25, 1996

Washington Post, The American Landscape, October 16, 1993

Museum and Arts, Medium as Message, July/August 1991

North Platte Telegraph, Artful Harvest, October 13, 1989

Omaha World Herald, The Plains Can Still Inspire, November 12, 1989

Washington Post, Prints: Washington, October 1988

The Houston Chronicle, Urban Landscapes, 1984

Elizabeth Peak, Prints and Drawings, essay by Alan Shestack. Published by Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Brunswick, ME. 1982. pp 1-16.


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