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Lisbeth Firmin

November 13 - December 4, 2002

A monoprint resists definition. Its essence is best conveyed by example.
The McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Art defines a monoprint as neither a print
nor a painting, but something that lies midway between the two, then resorts to a recipe. For authors of dictionary entries such compromising definitions must be frustrating, but for those who choose this medium, its nebulous identity is the source of its appeal. There is no better space for creative people to occupy than the territory situated between definitions.

Lisbeth Firmin enthusiastically seeks the fertile, messy ground of the monoprint precisely because it declares itself outside neat categories. For her, the technique's flexibility serves not only as as a procedural step in her effort to achieve a graphic approximation of reality, but in a broader sense as a way to, as she puts it, "...ride the edge between abstraction and realism". Apparently her discomfort with definition runs deep. Like the work of John Sloan and Edward Hopper, artists with whom she feels a strong affinity, Lisbeth Firmin's work pursues no categorical firmness but instead seeks a deft balance between the subject and the pictorial structure that holds it together. To accomplish this she has devised a personal approach to the monoprint that is, no surprise here, difficult to define though meticulously outlined in her own recipe:

I use etching inks and oil paints. I roll up the plate (a piece of thick Plexiglas, cut to size) with a roller first, usually using black to start. I then do what they call 'reductive' monoprinting, which means that I wipe away the plate, using starched cheesecloth, rags and paper towels. Once I get the image laid out into basic darks and lights, I go back in with some color, using both etching inks and oil paints. With small rollers and several sizes of brushes I draw and refine the image. The Plexiglas plate is great because it is transparent and you can hold it up to check on the drawing and composition while you're working. Once the plate is finished, it is printed on an etching press, using a variety of printmaking paper. There is of course only one impression per drawing. Some artists do pull another impression from the plate, but the image produced is too ghost-like for me.

Both her prints and final paintings (there are two small canvases in the exhibit) reveal a compositional skill remarkable for someone working with such transient subject matter. These images concentrate on New York pedestrians, a troupe of particularly rapid moving performers whose relationship to their environment is almost symbiotic. Unlike Hopper, whose sense of the urban pace seems more in tune with the stage, Firmin's sensibility is closer to the street photographer or documentary filmmaker - simultaneously comprehensive and fleeting. It is a quality that nourishes a substantial painterly spirit.

Peter Malone

Exhibition Checklist
[All work is 18" x 18" monoprint on paper, 2002 - unless otherwise indicated]

Waiting for the Light, Talking on the Phone ... image

Walking Downtown, Last Summer

Couple Walking, 7th Avenue South

Walking Downtown, Summer Afternoon
oil on board 20" x 20" , 2002

Couple with Child, West Village
oil on board, 20" x 20", 2002

Young Man, Chinatown

On the Phone, Braodway

Walking in the Rain, Lower East Side

Upper East Side, Late Afternoon

Going to Work

Waiting for the Morning Train

Grand Street I

Grand Street II

Walking Downtown, Last Summer

Young Man Strolling

Coming from the Park

Central Park, Late Afternoon

Upper East Side, Early Morning

Waiting by the Pond

Man Walking, Early Morning Sun

East Side Park, Morning

Young Mother with Child

Young Girl Walking, Late Afternoon

After Work, Downtown

Reading the Headlines, Midtown

Old Woman Going off to Draw

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