While in Paris in the early 1950s, Kohn was introduced to Roger Lacourière, who had revived the technique of using a sugar-based medium as part of the etching process. Lacking etching equipment, however, Kohn did not have the opportunity to explore this new medium until 1957, when he gained access to the necessary materials while teaching a summer session at the University of Wisconsin. Some of Kohn’s first etchings explored the subjects of certain of his recently completed wood engravings. Nevertheless, the facility he immediately experienced due to the directness and flexibility of this technique – and the increased capacity he had to improvise as he worked – soon led him to break new ground.
In his classes at Wisconsin, Kohn demonstrated the use of the chine collé process to add background color to the black-and-white etchings. After his return to Chicago, he took this further, and began to more seriously explore the use of color chine collé as an integral part of the conceptualization and presentation of his work. This was a radical and innovative experiment at the time and has since been so widely duplicated that it has become a standardized approach to the technique.
Kohn conceived of the colored collage pieces as both enhancing and serving as a counterpoint to the figurative illusion of the etched images: the process lent itself well to the semi-abstractionism with which he continued to approach figuration. Simultaneously, his emphasis turned to painterly issues and away from social concerns, presaging his later movement toward completely non-narrative art. Nevertheless, he would continue to return to using his art to comment on contemporary issues throughout his life.
Note: This text is excerpted from the comprehensive book Misch Kohn: Beyond the Tradition by Jo Farb Hernández (Monterey Museum of Art and Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1997), which includes a full catalogue raisonné of the prints as well as an exhibition history, chronology, list of works in public collections, prize list, and bibliography.