Robert Blackburn retrospective opens in Detroit March 30

Robert Blackburn retrospective

Robert Blackburn (American, 1920–2003). ‘Reflections’ (aka The Mirror), 1960. Color Lithograph; 18 ½ x 23 ¾ in. Nelson/Dunks Collection. Photograph by Greg Staley

DETROIT – This spring, the Detroit Institute of Arts, in collaboration with the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service, presents works from influential Black artist and master printer Robert Blackburn.

Open March 20 through Sept. 5, 20, “Robert Blackburn & Modern American Printmaking” brings together more than 75 works, including Blackburn’s lithographs, woodcuts, intaglio prints and watercolors as well as original prints by other iconic artists with whom he collaborated, such as Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Catlett, Grace Hartigan and Robert Rauschenberg. Together, they form a picture of an artist who consistently innovated, while encouraging and inspiring the work of others. This exhibition is included with general museum admission, which is free for members and residents of Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties. All museum visitors must make an advance reservation by phone at 313-833-4005 or online at

Robert Blackburn retrospective

Robert Blackburn (American, 1920–2003). ‘Girl in Red,’ 1950. Color lithograph; 18 ¼ x 12 ½in. The Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African American Art

A key artist in the development of printmaking in the United States, Blackburn became known as an influential teacher and master printer, engaging with avant-garde artistic ideas while promoting a new collaborative approach to a traditional medium. The exhibition traces Blackburn’s artistic evolution, together with prints by other American artists with whom he collaborated.

“For more than five decades, Robert Blackburn ran a workshop open to everyone. His printmaking knowledge and skill were legendary, and his generosity opened printmaking to generations of artists from all over the world,” says Clare Rogan, the DIA’s curator of prints and drawings. “At the same time, he was deeply connected to Black artistic circles including the Black Arts Movement of the 1960s and 1970s.”

Robert Blackburn retrospective

Ron Adams (American, born 1934). ‘Blackburn,’ 2002. Color lithograph on tan paper; 25 × 35in. Detroit Institute of Arts, 2011.89

Programming for Robert Blackburn & Modern American Printmaking includes a virtual lecture by Smithsonian guest curator Deborah Cullen-Morales who will discuss the inspirational life of Blackburn, and the many ways the artist’s accomplishments and values resonate today. This event will be free, streaming on the DIA’s Facebook and YouTube pages on April 13 at 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. For more information, visit

Blackburn was born to Jamaican immigrants and grew up in Harlem during the Harlem Renaissance, a time of flourishing arts centered in New York City’s creative Black community. During this time, the arts were considered crucial to the well-being of society, as well as a medium for activism. This period’s values resonated with Blackburn throughout his life and work. In 1947, he founded a printmaking workshop as a welcoming space where artists of any level could learn and create together, and it remains in operation to this day.