Robert Blackburn (artist)
Robert Blackburn (December 10, 1920 – April 21, 2003) was an African-American artist, teacher and printmaker.
Robert Hamilton Blackburn was born in Summit, New Jersey, in 1920, to parents who were from Jamaica, and he grew up in Harlem, where his family moved when he was seven years old. He attended P.S. 139, where his English teacher was Countee Cullen, and later, DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the literary magazine The Magpie, as a writer and artist. At the Harlem Art Center operated by the Works Progress Administration, he studied lithography and other print-making techniques with Riva Helfond, and frequented the Uptown Community Workshop, a gathering place for black artists and writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright and Jacob Lawrence.
From early prints that portrayed figures on abstract backgrounds, he moved into more abstract work. In 1941, a scholarship to the Art Students League made it possible for him to study painting with Vaclav Vytlacil and lithography with Will Barnet, who became his friend. In 1948, Barnet helped Blackburn establish the Printmaking Workshop, an 8,000-square-foot (740 m2) loft at 55 West 17th Street in New York City. In 1956, when the Printmaking Workshop struggled financially and faced the threat of closing, fellow artist and printmaker Chaim Koppelman devised a means to save the studio by transforming it into a cooperative with annual dues. Blackburn credited Koppelman with saving the Workshop, and in 1992, Blackburn, Barnet, and Koppelman received a New York Artists Equity Award for their "dedicated service to the printmaking community." In 1981, he was elected into the National Academy of Design as an Associate member, and became a full member in 1994.
In 1988, Blackburn and the nonprofit Printmaking Workshop received a Governor's Art Award from the New York State Council on the Arts. He received a MacArthur fellowship in 1992. He died in New York City in 2003.
On September 18, 2003, the Great Hall of Cooper Union in New York City held an exhibition and memorial to honor the work of this master printer, artist, and teacher. Blackburn's early work at DeWitt Clinton High School, where classmates included artists Burton Hasen, David Finn and Harold Altman, was exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in 2009.
- Leimbach, Dulcie. "ART; A Master and His Mecca on West 24th St.", The New York Times, February 8, 1998. Accessed February 20, 2011.
- Berstein, Alice. "Harlem artist Robert Blackburn remembered", The New York Beacon, October 22, 2003.
- Glueck, Grace, "Printmaking for the Love of It," New York Times, July 12, 1988.
- "Chaim Koppelman: Pioneering Printmaker and Teacher" Journal of the Print World Winter, 2010, page 4.
- Fifty years of Robert Blackburn
- Robert Blackburn's public artwork at the 116th Street Station, commissioned by MTA Arts for Transit.
- Printmaking for the love of it. NY Times.
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