An Affirmative "No": The Art of Leo Marchutz
In his preface to Leo Marchutz's hand-printed The Gospel of St. Luke, Lionello Venturi asks the question, "To make a work of art must one begin by saying 'no'?" His question is that of many artists. Two 19th century artists, Cézanne and Delacroix, struggled with this question in their rejection of contemporary taste and academic rules or, formally, in their decisions to "finish" or leave "unfinished." "The first of all principles," Delacroix said, "is the need to make sacrifices."
Venturi's question was occasioned by the publication of the biblical lithographs of Leo Marchutz (1903-1976), an artist whose life and work revolved around a series of "no's." Two of the most important were his rejection of conventional art training and his skepticism with the avante-garde which renounced European traditional principles. Yet Marchutz's "no's" in his life and art finally add up to a "yes"-- to the past masters he admired and studied assiduously, as well as to a new artistic achievement.
Marchutz was greatly influenced by the art and thought of Paul Cézanne. Cézanne's insistence on "the logical development of everything we see and feel through the study of nature," his belief that nature and art run parallel, and his humility in the face of past achievements guided Marchutz throughout his life. Marchutz never abandoned the principles of art that imply a mysterious union between the individual, nature's laws and the art of the past.