Printmaker Sidney Chafetz has seen a lot of the world in his 89 years. HeÂ came of age duringÂ the Great Depression, saw ground combat in World War II andÂ taught at the Ohio State University for the nearly four politically charged decades spanning the Civil Rights Era and the early Reagan years.
As an artist, ChafetzÂ couldn’t ignoreÂ the upheaval around him. So instead, he picked up his chisel and went to work.
“I was discouraged by the role of politics in everyday life, where instead of working for the public good, people were looking for individual advantage,” Chafetz said.Â ”Politics has changed, but still those old problems of politics working for their own advantage rather than public welfare and goodÂ are still around us.Â So Iâ€™ve had to comment on that.”
An exhibition of Chafetz’s prints fromÂ the earliest days of his career toÂ today is on display at the Columbus Museum of Art through September 23.
“Sid turns 90 next year and soÂ (the exhibition)Â was on the cusp of this new era,” said Columbus Museum of Art curator Melissa Wolfe.Â ”He was a phenomenal printmaker very early in his career.Â He had also created a new series that had not been on display at the museum yet:Â his (George W.) Bush series, a new political engagement for him.Â AndÂ I wanted to show him as continuing to be an incredibly engaged printmaker. So (the exhibition)Â runs all the way from the ’40s up until today and covers pretty much every one of his major themes that he’s known for.”
Through those themes,Â Chafetz’s artworkÂ tells the talesÂ of one who hasÂ lived. Trenchant commentary on political corruption, expressions of horrified indignation over the Holocaust and biting satireÂ of academic hypocrisyÂ beam like lasers through an assured printmaking technique and straight into viewers’ minds and souls. TheÂ social resonance of Chafetz’s work alsoÂ has earnedÂ his printsÂ places in some of the world’s most prestigious art collections.
But although the social criticism in Chafetz’s prints often cuts like a chisel to the bone, the artist’s philosophical bottom line informs every print he makes: “human beings count, politics counts, kindness counts.”