Harry Bertoia, born in Italy in 1915, was a resident of Barto, Pa., near Pottstown, where he created his well-known “tonal” sounding sculptures and designed furniture for Knoll, International.
His drawings, beginning in the 1940s, establish Bertoia as a pioneer in the new art of the twentieth century, an artist on the forefront of the international surge towards complete abstraction. He was one of the few American artists of that era to embrace nonobjective art. “I draw what I don’t know in order to learn something about it,” Bertoia explained.
Speed of execution for his drawings was of paramount importance to Bertoia. He wanted nothing to interfere with the expression of his thoughts at the moment of their realization. Improvising his own technique, Bertoia inked the plate in one or more colors of printer’s ink, laid dry or wet paper on it and rapidly drew on the reverse side of the paper with a stylus or other blunt object. Then he would apply pressure with his hands, fingers or small brayer and remove the paper while the ink was still wet. Although he might make more adjustments on the face of it, he wanted to capture the spontaneity of his thoughts and feelings at that moment.
Although primarily known today as a sculptor, Bertoia did not begin that phase of his career until the 1950s. Increasingly more of his time was spent on commissions for three-dimensional works, including his sound sculpture, and the number of drawings diminished. Many of the drawings in the 1960s could be related to his specific sculptures, but he also continued to create others that reflected only his state of mind at the moment. These are prized for their unadulterated images expressing his original observation. Through them one can trace the evolution of his ideas and forms.
“I want to show what is positive and joyful in the world,” Bertoia said. “If I had to sum up my forty years as an artist, I’d say my intent has always been the enrichment of life. I have a gut feeling that awareness of the miracle of life is the purpose of life.”
This exhibition, curated and traveled by Seraphin Gallery, Philadelphia, consists of thirty framed drawings from 1940 to 1978, and several Bertoia sculptures drawn from the permanent collection of the Philip and Muriel Berman Museum of Art at Ursinus College. It is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and Epps Advertising.