|Death Date: September 10, 2018
|Warrington Colescott was born in Oakland, California in 1921. His parents, Warrington, Sr. and Lydia Colescott, were New Orleans Creoles who moved to Oakland in 1920. Colescott’s studies at the University of California, Berkeley were interrupted when he was drafted to serve in the U. S. military during the Second World War. Upon his discharge from the army, he returned to the University of California where he earned his MFA in 1947.
His teaching career began the same year when he accepted the position of instructor at the Long Beach City College in Long Beach, California. Colescott made his first print, a serigraph, while at Long Beach and he taught there for two years before moving to Wisconsin in 1949. That year he began his long teaching career at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.
His early graphics were abstractions created in the medium of serigraphy. By the early 1960s he turned his focus on intaglio printmaking and his imagery evolved into social satire and commentary. He has produced a number of narrative satires, including one on the history of printmaking.
From the start, Colescott’s unconventional techniques, particularly his use of found materials, set his etchings apart. Mary Weaver Chapin, Curator of the Portland Art Museum, describes an instance when he incorporated a toy motorcycle, belonging to his son, into a print: "He just inked it up and passed it through the press, crunching it under great pressure as it passed through, to create this deeply embossed image of a motorcycle rider. I affectionately think of him as a Magpie. If he sees something shiny and interesting, he’ll pick it up and throw it into his mix of printmaking skills, such as bits of letterpress plates he’s picked up from other printers around Madison."
In an artist statement, Colescott wrote that he was interested in “that black zone between tragedy and high comedy, where a little pull or push one way or the other can transmute screams into laughter."
Among his subjects: A soldier writes a letter home to his mother admitting that he made a “boo boo” today, setting off a missile. Pilgrims and Native Americans dance cheek to cheek at the First Thanksgiving, ignoring the witches who are being tortured in the background. Benjamin Franklin enthusiastically demonstrates a printing press to buxom, wigged women at Versailles. The deceased fly “Air Death” en route to their Last Judgment, while skeletal stewardesses light their complimentary cigarettes.
For Colescott, history was fodder to be challenged, examined, and, when it suited him, re-invented: his riotous images often do so with full, imaginary narrative arcs behind them.