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Special Collections & University Archives

Matt Phillips: The Magic In His Prints

The Stanford University Libraries, Department of Special Collections, presented the exhibit, Matt Phillips: The Magic In His Prints. This exhibit celebrated the Libraries' recent acquisition of works by painter and printmaker Matt Phillips, widely recognized as a master of the monotype. With an emphasis on describing the artist's creative process, the exhibit will feature monotypes, drypoints, etchings, and lithographs, as well as artists' books and sketchbooks dating from the 1950s through the present. Matt Phillips: The Magic in His Prints was on view at Stanford University's Cecil H. Green Library, Peterson Gallery, second floor of the Bing Wing. The opening reception took place on August 5 and the exhibit ran through October 28, 2001.

The Department of Special Collections at the Stanford University Libraries acquired the Phillips collection in 1999. In addition to prints and sketchbooks, the collection includes items such as maquettes of artists' books, instructional drawings, photographs documenting his work in the studio, and printmaking plates. Phillips's finished works, considered in tandem with these other objects, will provide insight to students of studio art, printmakers, and anyone else interested in pondering the creative process of a visual artist.

Phillips is widely recognized as a master of the monotype. In its simplest terms, a monotype is an impression of a painting. A painting is done on a surface such as metal or plastic, and various effects can be achieved by wiping away parts of the paint with a cloth, leaving areas of whiteness for contrast or shading. A sheet of paper is then placed upon the painted and surface and pressure is applied by hand or via a printing press. Phillips uses the monotype to various effects. His depiction of beach scenes, with broad swaths of white evoke the blinding light of the shoreline; the swirling, breathy, and mottled textures in his depiction of a bouquet of flowers capture their fragility. Through teaching, writing, curating, and an unwavering devotion to the monotype as his primary medium, Phillips has played a critical role in spreading knowledge about the monotype as a graphic art form.

The exhibit also featured a series of drypoint prints, touching upon the artists' favorite subjects. The subjects that Phillips returns to, time and again, are scenes from his worldly travels-the bustle of open air markets in such places as Guatemala, Israel, and Morocco, and the rolling hills of Napa Valley and Montana. The artist also devotes entire print suites to the natural world-flowers, gardens, and virgin landscapes, sometimes with a sensuous presentation of the human figure in nature.

The parallels between printmaking and performing magical acts were also explored in the exhibit. Phillips the printmaker is also a magician. Magicians and printmakers must frequently work quickly, exercising a skillful sleight-of-hand. Magic teaches one to envision objects upsidedown and in reverse, and the image that is transferred to paper in printmaking is often the reversal of that on the printmaking plate. The boldness, flashiness, elements of chance, and spontaneity found in magic can also be found in printmaking-points also emphasized in the exhibit.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the Stanford University Libraries published the catalogue Matt Phillips: The Magic In His Prints. The catalogue highlights the Libraries' collection of monotypes, drypoints, etchings, and lithographs, as well as artists' books and sketchbooks by Phillips dating from the 1950s through the present. Designed by fine press printer and typographer Peter Koch. With 8 color and 8 black-and-white illustrations, a preface by Roberto Trujillo, co-curator and Head, Special Collections, and an essay by D. Vanessa Kam. The price is $15 per copy plus tax and shipping. To order please visit the Special Collections publications web site or email: speccollpubs@stanford.edu.