Mel Bochner: A Way With Words

Mel Bochner 1940 –

Mel Bochner
Photo by James Powers

In 1963, Mel Bochner was in Chicago, studying philosophy at Northwestern University. He said that he was bored, and cut class to visit the Art Institute of Chicago. He wandered into the Prints and Drawings Room, where the curator asked if he was looking for anything special. Bochner asked to see a Rembrandt. The curator brought out a black box, which held an etching by Rembrandt.

Bochner said that seeing the etching, knowing that Rembrandt had touched the paper he was looking at, became a turning point in his life. He put philosophy aside and concentrated on his art.

It took him a while to get his groove, but, eventually he began to use words “Basically,” he said in a recent interview, “I was interested in the relationship of depiction to representation, how to make language function pictorially.”

Some of his early works were portraits, composed of words on canvas, like his portrait of artist Sol Lewitt:

Mel Bochner
Portrait of Sol LeWitt, 1966
Collection of the artist. Image © Mel Bochner

Bochner chose a key word to begin the portrait and then copied out the synonyms from a thesaurus.

Much of Bochner’s early works were carefully drawn. “For me drawing is the way to see what I’m thinking.” Bochner said. As his work evolved, so did his choice of medium. “At a certain point around 1968, the question for me became, “Why not change the support as well? Must it always be paper? Why not notecards, or newspaper, or wrapping paper…? Why not any flat surface? Why not the wall or the floor? Are there any boundaries? Can drawing invade the lived space of the viewer?” Once asked, I inevitably had to confront the question, “What isn’t a drawing?”

Mel Bochner

Mel Bochner
Money, 2021
Monoprint in oil collage, engraving
Embossment on handmade paper
30 x 20 ½ inches
Signed, dated lower right
For sale at Surovek Gallery

An exhibit of Mel Bochner’s drawings is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago.

He lives and works in New York, where he continues to create works that reflect his, and our, thoughts and feelings, like his recent Here We Go Again/I’ve Had It Up To Here/I Can’t See Where This Is Going.

Mel Bochner
Here We Go Again/I’ve Had It Up To Here/I Can’t See Where This Is Going, 2022.
Oil on handmade paper in three parts

Mel Bochner Drawings: A Retrospective will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 22, 2022.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the work of Mel Bochner, or any of the other fine art available at Surovek Gallery.

Tom McGlynn. Mel Bochner: I STILL DON’T GET IT. The Brooklyn Rail. April 2022.
Kevin Salatino and Emily Ziemba. “A Way to See What I’m Thinking”: A Conversation with Mel Bochner. Art Institute of Chicago. April 20, 2022.
2022-06-28T09:58:55-04:00 June 15th, 2022|

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