Torch Song from the Copacetic portfolio, 2019.
Alison Saar (American, born 1956)
Linocut on handmade Japanese Hamada kozo paper, 19 1/2 x 18 in. Crocker Art Museum purchase with funds provided by the Marcy and Mort Friedman Acquisition Fund; and Janet Mohle-Boetani, M.D., and Mark Manasse, 2019.60.5. © Alison Saar. Photo: Courtesy of Catharine Clark Gallery and Mullowney Printing.

In 1991 Alison Saar created a series of bronze relief sculptures for the Harlem-125th Street train station in New York. Titled Hear the Lone Whistle Moan, the series includes a woman traveling to the city, a man leaving the city, and a train conductor at the top of the station’s stairs. Together, the figures reference the Underground Railroad and the movement of people in and out of New York throughout history.

Saar expanded the project in 2018, creating a series of twenty-four laminated glass panels for shelters lining the platform. Each panel of this Copacetic series depicts aspects of cultural life during the Harlem Renaissance. When seen together, it offers a panoramic view of dancers, musicians, singers, and revelers.

A year later, Saar published her Copacetic portfolio, a suite of eight multi-block linocuts that reference the Harlem-125th Street project and the Harlem Renaissance. Inspired by “the many great African American artists of the Harlem Renaissance that had active printmaking practices, such as Elizabeth Catlett, Hale Woodruff, and Aaron Douglas,” Saar’s prints reinforce Harlem’s vibrant history and enduring legacy.

The title of this linocut describes the work as a torch song, typically understood to be a sentimental song about lost or unrequited love. Torch singing generally follows the melodic structure of the blues, created by African American musicians in the South following the Civil War. The Copacetic portfolio presents imagined and vibrant scenes of the Harlem Renaissance. Underscoring the title is a link to Hollywood and racism. Torch Song (1953), a movie featuring Joan Crawford, is a love story about a Broadway musical singer and her blind rehearsal pianist. The film features a musical number titled Two-Faced Woman which Crawford lip-synchs to in blackface.

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Known for her powerful sculptures and prints that illuminate narratives of the African Diaspora, Saar’s work is featured in collections across the world.

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