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When Every Etching Tells a Story

CFA alum’s work on display at BU’s Sherman Gallery

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Click on the slide show above to see a quarter century of work from Andrew Raftery.

Andrew Raftery depicts the ordinary and everyday in his printmaking — but the process that goes into his work is anything but. In his recent series Open House: Five Engraved Scenes (2008), for instance, Raftery (CFA’84), who first discovered printmaking at age 11, takes planning and detail to a new level. To capture the images of people exploring someone else’s home, Raftery actually built a sculptural model of the house he was depicting and made wax figures of each figure in the engraving, then later drew all the aspects, like the people’s clothes and the rooms of the house.

The series is one of several on display at BU in the exhibition Boston University and Beyond: Twenty-Five Years of Prints by Andrew Raftery at the George Sherman Union’s Sherman Gallery. The exhibition begins with pieces of his student work from 1983 and continues through the most recent, revealing the different approaches and traditional etching and engraving techniques he has used throughout his career.

“There’s a whole range of techniques available to the printmaker, and each one has its own particular tools and requirements that influence the way the artist works,” Raftery says. “The technique that I’ve been attracted to is engraving. It’s a very direct medium, and it gives a high level of control, more so than any other printmaking medium.”

The Sherman Gallery exhibition also shows Raftery’s increased use of sequence over the years. As an undergraduate, he says, he would try to come up with a single image, but now he often makes a series of prints instead.

“I think that with the single image, I was always waiting around for that single image to come to me,” he says. “And there was so much pressure for that single image. But when working with multiple images, you think of one image and then another one will come to you. I think when working with multiple images, it is much more generative and much more open-ended to develop the story itself.”

And Raftery says he does tell stories in all his prints; like novelists such as Jane Austen, who use the world around them to tell their stories and depict their characters, he tries to do the same thing by more visual means. He uses scenes of contemporary life to show the world in settings that he knows best, and just as fictional characters do, his characters comment on the world around him.

“I do see my work as an experiment in fiction,” he says. “I can’t tell the same kind of story a novelist or a film can tell, but I’m always trying to think of what kind of stories can be told within the visual means I’m using. When you look at the Open House series in terms of its use of time, it’s actually a simultaneous experience because all five scenes take place at the same time. You get a sense of the people that are looking at the house. Then you also get to see the house by itself, to get a sense of the people who live there but that you don’t actually see.”

Raftery says his style of making prints of simple scenes from social and contemporary life originated during his time at BU. In his classes, he and other students spent time working with models, and their subjects were always the personal world around them. But, he says, BU gave him ideas for setting his prints in a newer, bigger context.

“When I was in high school and doing a lot of prints, I realized I was relying on techniques to give strength to my drawings,” he says. “But I realized I had to learn a lot more. I got to BU and was really challenged to be more observant and more skillful. It was very special. It gave me a lot of background as I then continued my research and started to learn new things.”

Boston University and Beyond: Twenty Five Years of Prints by Andrew Raftery is on display at the Sherman Gallery, on the second floor of the George Sherman Union, through Friday, March 6. The Sherman Gallery is open Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. and is free and open to the public.

Davide Nardi can be reached at dnardi@bu.edu.

2 Comments

2 Comments on When Every Etching Tells a Story

  • Joe Winter on 02.17.2009 at 9:25 am

    These prints are beautiful.

  • Anonymous on 02.17.2009 at 10:21 am

    i’m pretty sure this is the best written thing i’ve ever read and look forward to reading more from this davide character. like on a scale of 1 to 10, its well written

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