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Martin Lewis

Born: 1881, Castlemaine, Victoria, Australia
Died: 1962, New York, New York, United States of America

Which Way?
1932

Aquatint on pale blue paper
Plate: 10 5/16 x 15 7/8 in. (26.2 x 40.3 cm)
Sheet: 13 7/8 x 19 3/16 in. (35.2 x 48.7 cm)
Mat: 18 x 24 in. (45.7 x 61.0 cm)
Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection, 1996.34
Signed: In graphite, lower right, beneath platemark: Martin Lewis; signed in plate in a rectangle, lower left: MARTIN LEWIS
Inscribed: In graphite, lower left below platemark: 3rd Trial; verso in graphite, lower left: Which Way? [not by artist?]
Artist Name: []
Markings:  

Interpretation

At a snow-covered rural intersection cloaked in darkness, a car stops, the driver unsure which way to turn, in Martin Lewis's suggestive Which Way? The automobile's bright headlights illuminate the form and texture of snow clinging to a lone telephone pole and the adjacent terrain of the little-traveled road bounded by a snow-laden stone wall and a few trees, beyond which a distant, seemingly deserted farm seems inaccessible. The driver must turn, but the darkened landscape makes his choice of left or right equally arbitrary. Lewis manipulated his aquatint medium to create startling spot lit whites in dramatic contrast to the rich, inky black tones of the background countryside and the moonless night sky, punctuated by points of light comprising the constellations known as the Big and Little Dippers. This remarkably pristine impression is printed on cool, pale blue paper that subtly enhances the wintry crispness of the subject.

During the Great Depression, when the market for fine prints collapsed, Lewis and his wife left New York City to find more affordable housing in rural Connecticut. Which Way? is one of seventeen prints the artist made based on his numerous sketches of New England scenes. The print documents an era when such locales were being transformed by the automobile, the spread of roads, and the installation of telephone poles and lines along them. In Lewis's print, the driver's dilemma, underscored by the title, seems a metaphor for the insecurity and confusion of a nation in the throes of economic turmoil and on the eve of a presidential election that could take it in untried directions.

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Provenance

The artist
Margo Pollins Schab, Inc., New York, New York
Terra Foundation for the Arts Collection, Chicago, Illinois

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Exhibition History

On Process: The American Print, Technique Examined, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois (organizer). Venue: Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, January 13–March 2, 2001.

Collection Cameo, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 2003. America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper, Terra Foundation for American Art and the Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, Oxford, UK (organizers.) Venue: Ashmolean Museum of Art & Archaeology, Oxford, UK, March 23, 2018–July 22, 2018 [exh. cat.]

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Published References

McCarron, Paul. Martin Lewis: The Graphic Work. (exh. cat., Kennedy Galleries). New York: Kennedy Galleries, 1973. No. 106.

McCarron, Paul. The Prints of Martin Lewis: A Catalogue Raisonné. Bronxville, New York: M. Hausberg, 1995. No. 99, p. 179.

Sikkema, Scott. Which Way? Martin Lewis. Collection Cameo sheet, Terra Museum of American Art, Chicago, Illinois, May 2003. Ill. (color). [specific reference to Terra print]

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