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Screen-Printed Cotton by Angelo Testa

American, 1942

Now recognized as an important figure in the American Bauhaus movement, Angelo Testa (1921–1984) originally intended to pursue a career in archaeology at the University of Chicago. But shortly after beginning his studies, Testa enrolled in the newly formed School of Design where he received instruction from Hungarian painter and collagist László Moholy-Nagy. The philosophical and aesthetic kinship forged between teacher and student proved valuable to the young artist, and Testa—through paintings, prints and sculptures—became a leading American proponent of non-objective art. Though his talents in these media were considerable, the versatility of Testa’s professional training is most evident in the textiles he designed and self-produced.

At the Institute of Design (as the school had been renamed by the time Testa graduated in 1945), he also worked under the tutelage of Marli Ehrman, head of the weaving department and a former Bauhaus student. Though Testa learned the craft of weaving from her, and would continue to experiment with weave structures throughout his lifetime, his silk-screened textile designs have had the most impact. In 1947, he established his own business, Angelo Testa & Company, in Chicago. Using both commercially produced and hand-loomed yardage as his canvases, Testa merged artisanal craftsmanship with industrial aspirations. His most important clients — F. Schumacher & Co., Greeff Fabrics, Knoll Associates, and Herman Miller Furniture Co. — introduced Testa’s designs to the American marketplace and ensured their use in a range of modern interiors.

Screen-Printed Cotton by Angelo Testa

These two outstanding designs were both created in 1942, while Testa was still a student, but they were not printed until his first year in business. Sportsmen’s Blues is one of Testa’s most iconic works. It achieves clarity and boldness through its banded composition: alternating red pinstriped and solid black fields create contrasting textures, providing a lively backdrop for the various curved and straight linear shapes that flow along the surface. Though the title may imply representational imagery—sports-related equipment, such as horseshoes, hockey sticks and fishhooks—the motifs can be viewed as purely abstract. Cryptic symbols were part of Testa’s anti-historical design repertoire, though Indian Heads clearly demonstrates specific cultural references to Native American arts. Organized into distinct units, the clusters of five oblong cartouches can be interpreted as tribal masks or other totemic objects. With its emphasis on strong vertical and lateral repetition, Testa’s sensitivity to spatial relationships is evident in the layout of Indian Heads. This colorway, of maize yellow, rust and mineral gray against a neutral ground, also attests to his preference for natural hues. The mysterious, artifact-like quality of Testa’s motifs in these designs may have roots in his early archaeological studies.

Sportsmen’s Blues is found in several distinguished American museum collections: the Art Institute of Chicago (1982.179), the Allentown Art Museum (2001.008.001) and the Museum at F.I.T. (2003.89.2). Indian Heads is represented in the Art Institute of Chicago collection (1982.166), and is documented as having been used for curtains aboard the S.S. Argentina passenger ship in 1948.

Sportsmen's Blues: 108" H x 46" W
Indian Heads: 126" H x 46" W

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