Bernard Childs: Finding the Life in the Plate

Bernard Childs’s engravings are remarkably filled with movement, elegance, and color—they are a result of a controlled dance of power tools across the plate. Despite their intimate and delicate lines his engravings belie the power of the tool and the hand that created them.

Bernard Childs: "The Rainmaker", 1955

Bernard Childs: "The Rainmaker", 1955

In 1930 Childs met Peer Smed, a Danish silversmith, at his atelier in an abandoned newspaper building in New York. According to the artist, ”It was a world that I was to fall in love with forever. It was to be the core of all that was to develop in engraving, and now, in light, electronics and machines.“

Bernard Childs: "Mercure", 1958

Bernard Childs: "Mercure", 1958

Childs wrote about Peer Smed in 1969 and his words hint at the affection and reverence he held for the silversmith, “Per [sic] Smed taught without words. I learned from his hands. I learned to love metals, the feel of them in my hands, the joy of fashioning them, the tools that can bring them to life.”

Bernard Childs: "Month of Felicity", 1960

Bernard Childs: "Month of Felicity", 1960

Between 1941 and 1942, Childs worked as a machinist in a factory converted to wartime production and what he learned from Smed “was to become widened by the use of lathes, planes, shapers and other industrial tools.” Years later when he began making prints this knowledge was his foundation for working on metal plates with electric power tools.

Bernard Childs: "Eight Leggers", 1962

Bernard Childs: "Eight Leggers", 1962

In 1961 Childs wrote about his press and the power, force and sensitivity of printing. “The double-geared intaglio press which eats up a quarter of the studio’s precious space is a lovely old job, a beautiful and impressive machine. But to look at its huge wheel, the heavy rollers, throws me back to dungeon racks, exquisite and unrefined torture, the embrace of the spiked Madonna. I know what is to happen as soon as my hands get on the handle of that wheel.

Bernard Childs: "Cheri", 1966

Bernard Childs: "Cheri", 1966

Moving away from the realm of paint, the chains become more real than those known by the galley slave. A whole new set of muscles, sensitivities, sounds, touches must be lashed and leased—the reek of the gasoline, the violence of power cutting tools, the patient filing of infinitesimal grains of metal, the saturation bodily in ink and re-inking, the last ritual of wiping the plate’s edge before the metal and I myself are placed on the sacrificial bed plate, the final benediction of soaking paper, the covering of the felt blankets, and then the remorseless roll of the press, my own hand at the wheel, my own bones and blood oozing through the cast iron rollers.

Bernard Childs: "Eight Leggers", 1962

Bernard Childs: "Eight Leggers", 1962

Who wouldn’t shudder, vacillate, go through every procrastinating antic before committing and consigning himself to such a process. Does the victim relish walking the plank, embracing the noose, dropping the trap with his own hand. How do you explain love.”

Bernard Childs: "Arrival", 1955

Bernard Childs: "Arrival", 1955

(Many thanks to Judith Childs for sharing Bernard’s writing.)

For more information on Bernard Childs, and to view more works by the artist, please visit our Bernard Childs gallery page.

About Annex Galleries

The Annex Galleries holds one of the largest original fine print inventories on the West Coast. With over 9,000 works, we specialize in (but are not limited to) original prints of the WPA era, Arts & Crafts movement, and Abstract Expressionism through the 1960's, with a focus on American and Californian artists both known and unknown. We have everything from Durer to Baumann to Picasso.
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3 Responses to Bernard Childs: Finding the Life in the Plate

  1. Neil Philip says:

    Thank you for such a penetrating account of an artist’s engagement with the materials and processes of art. These beautiful images, with their inner rhythms and delight in movement and flow, are enough in themselves, but the pleasure of looking at them is enlarged by understanding something of what was going through the artist’s mind and hands as he made them.

    • We’re so glad you enjoyed the Bernard Childs blog. There is much to be said about the importance of understanding the processes of printmaking– such knowledge can give us a greater appreciation of the final outcome. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful words!

  2. Emmanuel Benador says:

    It is of utmost interest. Thank you. It is one of few occasions where you may find relevant information about the life of an artist mix with artistic development and techniques on printmaking. From the birth of discovering how Childs used to make prints to how he entered in this fascinating world in the full scale and working in intaglio as well as the kind of tools he used without forgetting first hand “temoignages” seems for the reader like penetrating in artist’s printing studio. The text also helps the reader to understand what was the real meaning of printmaking for the artist. Obviously, the freedom he found in printmaking and the use of printing proofs himself allowed him to extreme liberties and diversifications, in opposition to regular editions. All the latter make childs in the category of one of most original printmaker of his generation.

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