David Avery. American, born 1952

Avery has developed an exceptional technique and has created a remarkable body of finely wrought miniature etchings and drypoints. Even though "black and white doesn't sell", he has eschewed the use of color, finding the subtleties and tonalities of black and white most capable of creating the psychological mood that allows his work to be effective.


Artist Statement

We live in an age where words, images and objects seem to have been looted of meaning. In response to this perceived state of affairs, I have come to think of the etchings I make as being miniature Rorschachs, acting upon the experiences and senses of both the careful viewer and the artist. The varied tonalities and wealth of detail that it is possible to achieve within the medium of black and white etching act to heighten the viewer’s perceptual receptivity, awakening unforeseen and unlikely associations. The associations and perceptions thus generated belong to the viewer, and of course overshadow whatever initial intentions I may have had.

Where do my ideas come from? The same place as everyone else’s—the brain. Or more precisely, they come from the interaction between experience and imagination that takes place within the brain, and I tend to think of my discovery of images in terms of receptivity rather than "inspiration" or "creativity". If anything, my intent in pursuing a highly detailed image is to work towards an inward goal, rather than trying to make an inner vision tangible. Even a simple nursery rhyme, once you start picking at it, will reveal layer upon layer of associations and further meanings. I consider my work successful to the extent that it is able to generate multiple interpretations, releasing this capacity for receptivity to the mysterious and the ambivalent.

David Avery


David Avery was born in Washington DC in 1952, but spent most of his childhood in the suburbs of Fresno, California. This perhaps contributed to his somewhat suspect world view. From early age he was an avid and prolific drawer, a practice he continued as he grew up. In high school and college the study of the oboe and classical music became his main focus, and while he achieved a certain level of proficiency on his instrument, he realized that after thousands of hours scraping reeds and practicing, he would never be a professional performer.

During this time, he continued to draw in pen and ink, and his interest in printmaking was sparked by the chance introduction to an artist whose medium was etching. The subsequent viewing of an exhibition by printmaker Stan Washburn was instrumental in influencing him to try his hand at etching. Signing up for a printmaking class at a Community College, he soon realized that he was meant to be sitting over a piece of zinc or copper with an etching needle in his hand. The patience and discipline required in the practice of making reeds and playing the oboe were invaluable in developing a refined etching technique that made possible the production of highly detailed imagery. Although he experimented with color and many different mediums of printmaking, he found that black and white was his true expressive medium, and that detailed line etching enabled him to give voice to his unusual personal vision. He continued to develop his work at the Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco, and over the years cultivated many influences, including the Old Masters, Peter Bruegel, and Max Klinger, as well as literary and cinematic influences as diverse as Rabelais, Alfred Jarry and the Bros. Quay.

While it was several years before he could devote full time to his efforts, juggling marriage, full time employment and raising a child, he still found time to continue the pursuit of his obsessions. Much of his work at this time centered around the use of fairy tale or mythological concepts, which he used as a springboard to subvert what we choose to perceive as contemporary reality. The acquisition of an etching press improved the situation immensely, and currently he spends his full time creating work at his home in San Francisco, where he has his etching studio.


born 1952 Washington DC

Graphic Arts Workshop in San Francisco

public collections
Achenbach Foundation of Graphic Arts, San Francisco, CA
Fogg Museum of Fine Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington DC
Library of Congress, Washington DC
New York Public Library, NY
Stanford University, Special Collections, Palo Alto, CA
San Francisco Public Library, Book Arts and Special Collections Center, CA
St. Mary's College, Moraga, CA
Turner Print Gallery, California State University, Chico


Politically Charged Prints Cause Talking in the Library
By Ken Johnson
New York Times, December 4, 2007

Multiple Interpretations - installed in the New York Public Library

Exerpts from the review:

Controversy has erupted from the sleep third-floor hallway galleries at the New York Public Library, where a modest exhibition of contemporary prints called Multiple Interpretations is on view.

The work that has prompted protests from some library patrons, attracted coverage by the Daily News, Fox News and USA Today and has stirred the blogosphere is called "Line UP" a series of politically inflammatory prints by the team of Nora Ligorano and Marshall Reese...

It is at the first mildly shocking to come upon such bluntly partisan artwork on a New York Public Library wall. Biting political satire is deeply a part of printmaking history – see Goya, James Gillray and Daumier (Warrington Colescott) – but handmade prints are no longer a significant form of political communication, and we don’t expect anything so brazenly tendentious in the public library context… …Seen elsewhere, the prints would not be so provocative...

That said, Ligorano/Reese’s piece does pose a challenge to the rest of the exhibition, which looks quiescent by comparison, even taking into consideration that the show is not meant to focus on political work. Organized by the library’s curator of prints, Roberta Waddell, the display is intended to present the range of contemporary printmaking styles that the library has collected during the last 10 years.

There are a few artists in the show who are primarily committed to printmaking. David Avery, for example, created a series of small, Neo-Gothic style illustrations for Grimms’ fairy tales that are crammed with magical details rendering in eye-straining miniaturism...



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