|Birth Date: March 7, 1921
|Death Date: September 10, 2018
|Warrington Colescott was born in Oakland, California on March 7, 1921. Colescott was an American Postwar and Contemporary artist best known for his satirical etchings as well as his work as a painter, printmaker, and educator. He is also well known for his unconventional techniques in printmaking, often incorporating found materials in the printing process.
Colescott navigated the intersection between tragedy and comedy with sarcastic etchings about history, politics, and civil rights. He utilized a figurative style by interweaving an often dark reality with colorful, cartoonish and satirical interpretations, challenging and re-inventing history through his own narrative lense.
In 1942, Warrington earned his BFA from the University of California-Berkeley. He actively contributed to the school magazine, ‘The Pelican’, and the school newspaper, ‘The Daily Californian’, drawing cartoons and writing articles for both publications. He intended to continue his studies directly after graduation, but his plan was interrupted when he was drafted during World War II. He served in the Army as a First Lieutenant of Artillery and was stationed primarily in Okinawa. He was also stationed briefly in Korea as part of the postwar occupation. Determined to continue his education, he returned to California after being honorably discharged in 1946, re-enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, and graduated with his MFA in 1947.
That same year, shortly after graduation, he was hired as an instructor at the Long Beach Community College in Long Beach, California where he taught drawing and painting. He continued to develop his craft and made his first screenprint, a serigraph, while at Long Beach. In 1949, he was hired by the University of Wisconsin-Madison as a painting and printmaking instructor, where he would remain for 37 years. During this period, he met fellow instructor and artist Alfred Sessler who introduced Colescott to etching, which would become his most well-known medium of his career.
The 1950s were a prolific time for Colescott. His teaching career at the University of Wisconsin grew and flourished, he continued to develop his artistic skills, winning awards and fellowships which allowed him to travel, and his work was beginning to gain traction in New York City. His work was included in important shows, including the Museum of Modern Art’s ‘Young American Printmakers’ exhibition in 1953, and at the Whitney Museum of American Art during 1955 and 1956, both of which brought critical notice to his work.
From 1952-1953, using benefits from the GI Bill, Colescott attended l’Académie de la Grande Chaumière in Paris where he studied painting. In 1954, he returned to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to continue teaching and in 1955, he was named as an Associate Professor. Over Colescott’s career, he received fellowships from many prestigious institutions. Colescott received a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed him to study at the Slade School of Art in London from 1956-1957, and while there, he worked under the instruction of Anthony Gross and from him learned the spectrum of intaglio processes - engraving, etching, drypoint, aquatint, and mezzotint. In 1958, Colescott was promoted to Professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he continued to instruct and influence his students.
By the early 1960s, his artwork became less abstract and moved towards narrative, often interpreting and subverting the news of the day. He turned his focus towards etching, cutting, and shaping copper etching plates with mechanics’ shears and frequently incorporating bits of letterpress components and recycled etching plates. An example of his evolving imagery is seen in the work, ‘In Birmingham Jail’ (1963). This etching is based on civil rights struggles in the South and rebukes the racism and violence permeating the corrupt social system of the era.
In 1964, Colescott received the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship which allowed him to return to London to study. In 1965, he spent an additional year abroad in Rome, where he taught printmaking for the Tyler School of Art study abroad program before returning to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He returned to London once again in 1968, to study printmaking and etching at the Charlotte Street Basement Studio under instruction of master printmaker Brigit Skiold.
Between 1975-1978, Colescott produced arguably his best known work, the series, ‘The History of Printmaking’. This series consists of twenty-one intaglio prints, two lithographs, and a number of watercolors and drawings. His images depict critical moments in the history of printmaking beginning with a historical fact, then adding his own interpretation of each moment and each significant artists’ contribution to the art.
Colescott continued to produce work late into his career, satirizing and amusing his audience with his ‘Suite Louisiana’ series consisting of eleven prints, during the 1990s and 2000s. This series comedically comments on culture in Louisiana, a much cherished place for the artist, as his family was of Louisiana Creole descent. Colescott had a condo in New Orleans that he would often visit for enjoyment and inspiration for his work.
Over the years he was the recipient of numerous grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (1975, 1979, and 1983), the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Wisconsin Arts Council and he received the Wisconsin Governor’s Award in the Arts. Colescott was a member of the Elvehjem Museum of Art Council (now the Chazen Museum of Art) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the Madison Art Center, the National Print Organization and he was Vice-President of Art for the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences Arts and Letters. From 1978-1984 he held the Leo Steppat Chair Professorship in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Graphics Art Department and in 1986, Colescott was named Professor Emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison..
Colescott was married to fellow artist, Frances Myers Colescott, who preceded him in death in 2014. Throughout his career, the couple shared a home studio at their farmhouse in Hollandale, Wisconsin. On September 10, 2018, Warrington passed away at 97 years old while at his home in Hollandale.
Colescott’s work is included in numerous public collections throughout the world including the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Tate Gallery of Modern Art, London, and the Biblioth?que nationale de France, Paris. His work can also be found in across the United States at the Metropolitan Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York City; the Art Institute of Chicago; the Cincinnati Art Museum; the Portland Art Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Chazen Museum of Art and the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, Madison; the Carnegie-Mellon Museum, Pittsburgh; and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.