Michael Mazur might be the best-known visual artist to have graduated from Amherst. A painter and printmaker, he earned acclaim for reviving the use of monotype prints. Today, his works are in permanent collections around the world, including the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
But before that, Mazur was an undergraduate attempting to figure out his life and career. As Senior Resident Artist Betsey Garand explained at a gallery talk during Reunion last week, Mazur’s legacy began with his ambitious senior thesis project, An Image of Salomé.
Influenced by a gap year spent studying art and Italian in Florence, Italy, Mazur’s thesis included 16 hand-carved woodcuts and wood engravings illustrating texts from the Bible, Oscar Wilde, Gustav Flaubert and Stéphane Mallarmé. He made 34 prints of each illustration, and had them bound, with accompanying text, into large, hardcover books. “He printed it all himself,” Garand says, “and it was really quite an accomplishment.”
That thesis, never before displayed in a museum exhibition, is now on view at the Mead, alongside Mazur’s vibrant pastels, large-scale gestural paintings and well-known prints, including Dante’s Inferno. The exhibition honors the memory of the artist, who died in 2009, during what would have been his 60-year Amherst reunion. “You can see in all of his work that he really loved getting into the material,” Garand says. “Whatever material and idea he worked with, he fully invested himself in it.”
Garand worked with Mazur in 2004, when he visited Amherst as the Robert Frost Library Fellow and spent a week working with students in the printmaking studio in Fayerweather Hall. “His visit had a lasting effect on all who were involved, myself included,” she says. At the time, Garand was well-acquainted with Mazur’s work, having studied it herself as a student at the University of New Hampshire. “He’s an incredible artist who certainly influenced my work,” she says. “I show his work every semester to my students.”
One such student is David Le ’17E. Upon seeing Mazur’s works during a class visit to the Mead, Le says, “I was astonished by the techniques used in making them, and wanted to learn about the process involved in creating these images.” While taking Garand’s “Printmaking I” and “Working in Series” courses, Le says that with Mazur’s works in mind, he enjoyed exploring techniques for creating intaglio and monotype prints.
As part of his own senior project, Le created a series of monotypes inspired by a childhood memory of accidentally setting curtains on fire in his living room. “Betsey mentioned that they were similar to Mazur’s diptych titled Window Sequence (1974), which surprised me,” he says. “I was unaware of how much Mazur’s works had inspired my own artistic practices.”
The exhibition, Perspectives on Michael Mazur, remains on view at the Mead Art Museum through Dec. 16, 2017. It includes works from the Mead collection, a copy of Mazur’s senior thesis project from Amherst’s Archives and Special Collections and generous loans from Mazur’s classmates H. Axel Schupf ’57 and Bob Keiter ’57. It is organized by Vanja Malloy, curator of American art, with support from Garand and Gail Mazur, poet and wife of the late artist.
See more photos of the exhibition in the Flickr photo gallery.