Black Mountain College Artist – John Urbain
by Parker Louise Bobbitt
The Geometric Vistas: Landscapes by Artists of Black Mountain College exhibition opens August 6 at the Asheville Art Museum and we’re taking the opportunity to take a closer look at some of the geometric landscapes in the Museum’s Collection. Today, we’re focusing on John Urbain’s monochromatic etching titled Houses, which will be on view in the exhibition.
Houses is a small etching depicting recognizable structures through the use of simple shapes and colors. Creating the appearance of a town in the moonlight, Urbain achieved a sense of depth and light in this work with strong monochromatic contrasts. The collage-like appearance of this work, contrasts and use of shape are all reflective of principles found in other Black Mountain College artworks.
Traditionally, etchings like Houses are made by using a toxic material such as acid to cut designs into a metal sheet which is then used to create an intaglio print. This process that dates back to the Middle Ages is still used today by artists and for industrial purposes.
Born in 1920 in Brussels, Urbain came to the United States in 1922 with his family. Recognizing his talent for art, Urbain’s father encouraged him in this pursuit and later sent him to Cass Technical School in Detroit to continue his studies. In 1941, Urbain was drafted into the U.S. Army where his artistic talent was quickly put to use creating army training graphics and murals. When he was wounded in 1945, he returned to the U.S. and soon began studying at Black Mountain College under the recommendation of Ray Johnson. There, he studied under Josef Albers and learned the techniques that are seen in Houses such as line, space and collage. It was there that Urbain met his future wife, artist Elaine Schmidt. As with all other attendees of Black Mountain College, Urbain’s life and work were deeply influenced by his time there.
Urbain’s Houses will be on view at the Asheville Art Museum starting August 6 along with other geometric landscapes of Black Mountain College.
Artwork above: John Urbain, (Paris Etchings) Houses, nd, etching on paper, 5.5 x 7.3 inches, Black Mountain College Collection, Gift of the Artist, 2009.33.02.63.