Art in Review

Érik Desmazières

Art in Review, The New York Times, Friday, December 14, 2001, by Grace Glueck.

There are printmakers and printmakers, and then there is Érik Desmazières, a Frenchman who stands in a class by himself. A powerful, old-style draftsman whose work runs from fantasy to superrealism, he manipulates the techniques of etching and aquatint to produce masterly effects of space, light and shadow.

One of his greatest projects was a series of illustrations done in 1997 for Jorge Luis Borges' "Library of Babel," an architectural rumination whose brilliance in conceiving and rendering offbeat spaces matches the prose of Borges. Several prints from the series are shown here.

A more conventional example of his skill with architectural space is a recent (2001) depiction of the main reading room of the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, La Salle Labrouste. More than three feet wide and done from a high perspective, the print captures the vast dimensions of the room with its arched walls and multidomed ceiling vis-à-vis the tiny figures of knowledge-seekers deployed at acres of tables.

Several views of Paris and one of an imaginary city, each with medleys of quirky buildings, add a bit more humbly to the architectural repertory here. And then there are more intimate scenes, among them the crammed atelier of Mr. Desmazières' printer, René Tazé, seen through the wheel and ratchets of a big intaglio press that dominates the room, along with a couple of lovely still lifes in color.

The only works that elude me in Mr. Desmazières' versatile lineup are his figures of quaint old jesters, puppets and punchinellos, very 18th-century in mood. But why quibble with a master?

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