Brilliant Mistakes: James Kelly’s Deep Blue I

James Kelly’s Deep Blue I (1952) is one of the most successful of the lithographs created by San Francisco Bay Area Abstract Expressionists. In the years just after World War II he, along with James Budd Dixon, Roy de Forest, Sonia Gechtoff and Frank Lobdell, began making lithographs in the primitive print studio of the California School of Fine Arts (CSFA), while others such as Dennis Beall and George Miyasaki found lithographic possibilities elsewhere in the Bay Area. Many of these artists were, like Kelly (1913–2003), veterans recently returned from the war and eager to express themselves artistically; almost all were inexperienced as printmakers. It was a time of urgency and experimentation; technical niceties were overlooked in the fevered rush to create images. As a collector of Abstract Expressionist prints, I was drawn to those where there was evidence of that lack of expertise—fingerprints in the margins, misregistrations—because they so clearly expressed the passion and immediacy of the creative moment.1 The two major printing errors in Deep Blue I, however, are more than just signs of the times—they contribute significantly to the print’s success.

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  1. In America it was not until master printers at ULAE (1957) and at Tamarind (1960) began publishing lithographs for artists that technical mastery would become the industry standard. []