Vision is an inherent component of visual art, and a tool for artists as much as pigment, engraving implements or canvas. It serves to recognize a subject, create work with detail or color, refine work in progress and judge a finished product. And much has been written about artists with poor vision, or about aberrations in art that might be interpreted to indicate an eye disease.
However, neither is terribly illuminating without the medical facts about an artist’s eyes. Judging eye disease from art (i.e., from an artist’s work) is usually in error, since artists have license to choose their subjects and technique for personal reasons. For example, there is every indication that El Greco did not paint elongated figures because of faulty optics.2 On the other hand, when eye disease can be documented, as is the case with the failing vision suffered by the aging Degas and Monet, one can learn much about the art and the motivation of the artist through study of the works done with visual impairment.
American artist Peter Milton (b. 1930) has congenital color deficiency (“color blindness”) as well as a number of other visual problems (myopia, strabismus, cataracts) that have been correctable. This article is a collaborative effort that grew out of discussions between Milton and a visual scientist (Marmor) who has studied the role of vision and eye disease in art. Milton recognizes that eyesight, i.e., physical “ocular vision,” has been a factor in his printmaking and has played a distinctive role in how he has conceptualized and approached his work throughout a long career. We describe the medical facts of Milton’s visual status, while letting the artist speak for himself about his purpose and style.
Peter Milton is an internationally respected titan of etching who has enjoyed a long and fruitful career in printmaking. His large-scale, multilayered images defy visual logic while telling fantastic stories about life, loss, music, and art.
In this exhibition, his copper plates, along with preparatory materials and final prints, shed light on the innovative techniques Milton devised to give visual life to his enigmatic tableaux. The copper plates are, according to the artist, “by far the most beautiful things I make.” In fact, they hold a preeminent place in his mind: “The creation part is the joy; the printing is merely the completion of the process.”
“I suppose what I am really working toward is a four-dimensional articulation — where images juggle with the time continuum as part of the enigma.”
Peter Milton was born in Pennsylvania in 1930. He studied for two years at the Virginia Military Institute and completed his BFA in 1954 at Yale University under Josef Albers and Gabor Peterdi.
Milton continued his studies at Yale and in 1961 received his MFA. From 1961-1968 Milton lived in Baltimore where he taught at the Maryland Institute College of Art. It was during this period when Peter Milton took an avid interest in printmaking. Over the course of fifty years, Milton has created intricate visual worlds in more than 130 prints, many of which took well over a year to make.