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The Masterful Printing of Dorian Allworthy

To offer a critical judgment on the graphic work of an Old Master immortalized by time and fame can be a much easier task than providing a fair opinion on the work of an old friend who happens to be a young, charming and petulant artist. Dorian Allworthy is indeed passionate about her art and nothing reveals better her commitment than her prints. I would like first of all to reveal to a larger audience a production that she has regarded as only secondary to her paintings and kept outside of the public eye until now. Printing is an arduous task. It involves several stages and requires much patience. Outlining with a dry point in reverse a composition of one’s own, warming and inking the plate before placing it on the press, sweeping its surface, choosing and wetting the adequate paper, maneuvering a press and drying each proof is a messy task and an ordeal to most artists. It requires such professional skill that those who venture into that art often become professional at it. Few artists feel sufficiently at ease to retain printing as a pure exercise in the development of their ideas. It is however the case with Dorian Allworthy who always shows you her prints as if they were insignificant. She often displays a certain affectation in handling her proofs roughly. She pulls them out of boxes in which they were crammed; the margins crumpled, the image printed at funny angles. She strives to make you feel that her creation was carefree. Yet it takes the eye of a professional to notice their virtuosity.

One of Dorian’s underling lines of sophistication is her knowledge and appreciation of paper. The diversity of material on which she prints is spectacular. Some of the paper is so thick and soft that the bite of the press gives a third dimension to what is normally regarded as a flat art. Dorian revived a technique of chin collé, where patches of colored paper silhouetted to purpose is placed on top of the wet piece of paper before it is printed, giving the impression that the print has been colored. It is a diabolically difficult effect to achieve and Dorian seems to excel in its mastery. Dorian’s choice of dry point shows that she never has a large production in mind. Indeed dry point, unlike other techniques using acid to leave a deeper bite in the metal, only scratches the surface of the copper plate. Each impression rubs the clarity of the image further. The first proofs are always the best. As a rule, Dorian seems to perpetually rework her plates and each of her impressions is almost a monotype. It shows how much printing fulfills for Dorian the same functions as drawings for most other artists.

The subjects of her prints are very telling as well. The most irresistible ones are those representing her dogs. They come to life in her prints. Dorian seems to have caught the mysterious and persistent gaze that fascinates any dog lover. She portrays those very curious moments when a pet looks far more like a human than any friends or neighbors. To achieve the rendering of such ephemeral perceptions through the means of such technically demanding methods is staggering. Some of her compositions are however more ambitious and recall a very American quality similar to that found in Sargent’s Spanish subject paintings and in Whistler’s Italian compositions. The mood is the essence of these compositions: boxers caught in the middle of a fight, cowboys tensely seated at tables. These prints reveal the depth of Dorian’s knowledge of the Old Masters. Unlike many contemporary artists, Dorian loves referring to the past. Her prints are like the endless pages of Vuillard’s and Bonnard’s albums copying masterpieces at the Louvre. It is no surprise that the Art Institute of Chicago asked Dorian to show at the end of the Rembrandt exhibition how these prints had been made, by exhibiting some of Dorian’s attempts at pastiching a Rembrandt self-portrait.

Francois Borne
February 2005