This post was written by student Amanda Sawyer.
Jack Coughlin, an Irish American artist born in 1932, is best known for his portraits of literary figures. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design and enjoyed a successful professional artistic and teaching career. [Today, he is professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. – ed.] Coughlin deals primarily in printmaking but also does work in drawing, painting, and sculpture. His print, named after the famed Irish novelist, James Joyce, is expressive of the style so commonly used by Coughlin.
During the 1960s, many types of artistic expression were explored. Some of them moved as far away as possible from traditional renderings and notions of what constitutes art. Coughlin’s exploration was much more subtle. His figures are highly representative of the individuals depicted; his methods of portraying the human form hold both naturalistic and illustrative qualities. By filling in areas of the subject with a sense of depth and form, Coughlin conveys the existence of the actual person. The areas he leaves blank, or simply described with a single line, leave the viewer to interpret. Inspiration for this technical method stems from artists such as Francisco Goya and Martin Schongauer, men whose work explored both animal and human forms.
Although Coughlin’s prints do not come swiftly to mind when considering art after 1960, his prints represent an aspect of American design and artistic thought. His influences fall within the European tradition, but are unique in their execution. The blank spaces and somewhat awkward positioning of the figures create a subtly altered view of these prominent figures. Coughlin’s work is modern in that it retreats from strictly traditional notions of artistic expression; he allowed himseld the luxury of exploration in terms of combining minimalistic representation and hyper-realistic study.