I smile when I recall the unrestrained and joyful play of Howie Lee Weiss's monotypes and lithographs recently shown at Baltimore's marvelous Goya Girl Press. These works represent a dramatic change in format for Weiss. First, they are made with bright primary colors: this is a surprise, since the bulk of his work is black and white, usually charcoal. Weiss’s drawings are always highly structured, from the earliest ones (unsettling mythical mysteries) to his current tangles of stressed and hyper cartoon characters that bounce hither and yon. While the drawings are sometimes huge, the largest of the monotypes and lithographs is around 30 inches high at the most, and some are much smaller.
If a visitor familiar with the charcoals had come in not knowing this was a show of Weiss’s prints, it would have become apparent only when she or he came face to face (literally) with the central image in Thoughts (2000), a lithograph. The “face” encountered is a whimsical, big-eyed, gentle visage that relates to the cartoonlike actors associated with the artist. The very spirit of the lithographs is in wild contrast to the constructed quality of the drawings. The images in the drawings, The images in the prints are frothy and playful, spontaneous and emblematic. Thoughts is composed of three columns and four rows of images: a sweet face made of blood-red strokes on ocherish yellow rectangle is in the center. A small red grid resides in the lower right: the three rows above contain leaflike shapes. On the left are blue makes that look like sea waves, and a black vase on top of a red disc. All elements are drawn in bold, thick marks.
These symbols are repeated in inventive ways throughout the show- the waves, the leaves, the vase, the grid and the discs occur in simple heraldic compositions, surprisingly formal considering the bold giggle in brush. One can see how devotees of Weiss’s normally powerfully structured drawings might be put off by the ease and simple fun of the monotypes. On my first encounter with them, I imagined a smile on old Matisse’s face, the Matisse of the lyrical cutouts of the doves and fronds and such.