Underground 1946. Etching and aquatint.17 3/4 x 11 7/8(sheet 20 5/8 x 16). Artist's proof; edition not known. A rich impression printed on cream-colored wove paper. Signed and annotated 'artist's proof' in pencil. Housed in a black and silver leaf 26 3/4 x 20 3/4-inch modernist wood frame. $7,500.
Underground exemplifies the methods of Stanley William Hayter’s Atelier 17, incorporating a combination of engraving, soft ground and aquatint techniques. Calapai’s vivid reaction to the crush of people commuting on the subway at 42nd Street is well matched to the rich surfaces and charged engraved lines. The subject brings to mind the social realist works of the WPA prints of the 1930s which Calapai knew first hand from his work in the New York print shop.
Letterio Calapai, painter and printmaker, was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 29, 1901. Following his graduation from the Massachusetts College of Art in 1925, he was awarded a two-year scholarship to the School of Fine Arts and Crafts in Boston where he worked under Charles Hopkinson and Howard Giles. In 1928, Calapai moved to New York continuing his studies at the Beaux Art Institute of Design, the Art Students’ League and the American Artists School. His first solo exhibition was in 1933.
Calapai worked at Atelier 17 in New York between 1946 and 1949. With Hayter’s recommendation, Calapai was hired to establish the printmaking department at the Albright Art School of the University of Buffalo. He was chairman for six years but returned to New York City in 1955. In 1959 he received a Tiffany Foundation Grant and the following year he established the Intaglio Workshop for Advanced Printmaking in Greenwich Village. Calapai also taught at the New School For Social Research, New York University, and Brandeis University. He moved to Chicago in 1965 and continued teaching at the University of Illinois.An influential teacher and printmaker, Calapai received a host of awards and honors. His work is included in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum of Fine Art Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the David Owsley Museum of Art, the Kemper Art Museum, the McNay Art Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Milwaukee Art Museum, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, la Bibliothèque nationale de France, the Sydney Art Museum, the National Bezalel Museum, and the Kyobashi Museum of Modern Art Letterio Calapai died in Glencoe, Illinois on his 92nd birthday, March 29, 1993.
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