About the John Peyton’s Original prints show at the Northern Prints Gallery
By Cele Leider
May 9, 2005
John Peyton was primarily a painter and his subject matter was largely of the North Woods, which he was passionately involved with all his life. He knew the woods intimately, traveling extensively with the North Woods’ mapmaker McKensie in his youth, as they explored the terrain that would become a life work for both of them, in differing ways. His paintings of the North Country are filled with an unequalled vigor, immediacy, and authenticity. They accurately capture the beauty of this regional landscape, without sentimentality, and with a vibrant directness culled from his extensive personal experience.
Some time in the early ‘70’s, he decided it would be a good move to have some of his paintings photographically reproduced. Thereby began a creative journey that took him deep into the art of original printmaking, and left his previous plan of process photo-reproduction far behind. He soon became enthusiastically engrossed in the printmaking process, and began to produce original prints instead of replicating his paintings. It is these images that the current exhibit presents.
He made these prints with his son, Hamilton, who operated a small offset printing press in Proctor, above the bank. In John’s own words:
“My son and I print most of the prints in his shop. We use various techniques and combinations of techniques to get the effects we want. Our lithographs are printed, without benefit of camera, from drawings made directly on lithographic plates [either paper or metal]. These are always something of a gamble. They have…variations from one copy to another, and a certain chancy boldness that has been characteristic of this medium ever since Goya and Toulouse-Lautrec. Working carefully and with reasonable luck, we can usually get from sixty to several hundred copies of one drawing. But once the image starts to fade, that’s it. There won’t be any more of that litho. “
In this exhibit, he Northern Prints Gallery has at least one copy of all of John Peyton’s original lithographs, as described above. But with his characteristic bold creativity, John went on from there into further technical experimentation. We also offer a large selection of his contact prints, images made by using light to directly sensitize the printing plate or paper. Such plates are made without the intervention of a photographic negatives and dot-screening, but are impressed directly onto the plate from whatever the source of the image (and John experimented widely with that, from simple drawings to marbling or scratching on acetate, and more). These images are not "reproductions", though they may have been begun with that intent. They have their own distinctive quality - neither drawing nor photo - and have the same feel of liveliness and connection with the artist's direct involvement that is a mark of all original prints. John liked what he saw happening, and enthusiastically manipulated the resulting printed image by pushing the edges of the technology then available to him.
For the kind of hand coloring he was planning, an original litho drawing would not have worked as well, and one notices that he rarely painted on those (and when he did, it was with very delicate washes). Only the boldness of the contact plate image was strong enough to serve as a "bone structure" for his watercolor experimentation.
It appears that he used these prints as a ready-made compositional tool... from which he could quickly and easily make as many watercolor variations as he wanted. One of the most difficult parts in drawing or painting is composition...it requires constant thought - while you are working - about placement and overall unity (like playing piano with both hands). The prints were his left hand, as it were...leaving him free to play with the melodies all he wanted. And as such, these images are neither strictly prints nor paintings, but a closely integrated combination of both media.
This is an extremely vibrant and interesting series of prints, obviously motivated by deep excitement about the technical and aesthetic possibilities of printmaking.
The Northern Prints Gallery is delighted and honored to bring them forward into the public eye again.
A note about assembling this collection:
Bringing the collection into a semblance of order has been a challenging and exciting project for granddaughter, Kris Cameron, and her husband Doug, as well as myself. It has been a labor of love for all of us - and full of surprises. Much is unknown about the prints still, but they are printed on archival papers and most are either hand signed or signed in the print. Editions ran from a few dozen to several hundreds, but most of the remaining prints are now in short supply. Some, in fact, are the last few remaining impressions, and of a few we have only one impression. The hand-colored prints vary widely. John’s penchant for experimentation is evident throughout…some done lightly and quickly while in others, the complexity of the painterly involvement almost obscures the print. Samples of the variations are framed or in the exhibit portfolio. There may be other versions, however, so if you are interested in an image, ask about this possibility.
Original Print Collection held by Hawk Ridge Art
Representing John L. Peyton
Doug and Kris Cameron
5110 Peabody St.
Duluth, MN 55804