Kerr Eby, born in 1889, was a Canadian-born printer. While he spent his childhood in Tokyo, Vancouver, Toronto, Bracebridge, and Kingston, his artistic inspirations led him to the city of New York at the age of 15. He worked hard to finance his artistic studies, first as an apprentice in Bracebridge paper, then as printer in a lithographic firm. His money was spent on classes at the Pratt Institute and art supplies, but the overall cost of living as an artist in New York was too immense. Discouraged and penniless, he retreated to Canada.
It was among the Canadian wilderness where he found solace and new inspiration. Eby worked on a surveying party in Northern Ontario, and spend his off hours sketching. He spent most summers as a surveyor, taking a break in the fall to attend night classes in New York at the famed Art Students League.
In 1917, Kerr enlisted in the army. Working in the ambulance crew and camouflaging soldier’s guns and equipment, Eby was both haunted and moved by the soldier’s around him. His new work captured many soldiers at rest and in the thick of battle, resulting in emotionally intense and telling sketches. Every week, he sent his drawings home, and at the war’s end, his collections of notes and drawings became the basis for his new series of etchings.
Back in New York, Eby worked on his War series and gained a solid network of supporting friends and gallery connections. Upon the outbreak of WWII, Eby once again tried to reenlist to fight. He was denied due to health conditions, but he went to Philippines as an artist war correspondent. It was in the Philippines that he contracted a tropical disease, which eventually led to his death in 1946.
Kerr Eby is one of the great 20th century printmakers, heralded for his use of negative space and plate tone. His plates usually held a combination of drypoint and etched lines, resulting in an interplay of strong lines and delicate details. His night scenes exude mystery and the silence of nightfall, with highlights from a flickering candle or a roaring campfire set against an all-encompassing darkness. His landscapes are just as telling of his talents and skilled hand. They speak to his ability to edit, as he would enlist only one or two lines to do the work of many- letting the almost unmarked plate convey a sense of vast open space with great depth and dimension. His prints continue to inspire artists to this day, and also serve as a rich historical account of the 20th century.
To see a sampling of the Kerr Eby prints we offer, check out our website here. A Kerr Eby print will be featured in our next gallery show, location, Location, Location , opening at the Old Print Gallery on August 19, 2011, and running until September 8, 2011. Stop by during the show and see his print, along with other works by 20th century and contemporary artists.
Information for the prints featured above are as follows:
- 1st image: Devils Back by Kerr Eby, etching and aquatint, 1939.
- 2nd image: Sand and Sea, Cape Cod by Kerr Eby, etching, 1921.
- 3rd image: In the Open by Kerr Eby, etching, 1927.
- 4th image: Light in the Woods by Kerr Eby, etching and aquatint, 1931.
- 5th image: White Water by Kerr Eby, etching, 1929.