Although first a painter, Frederick O’Hara’s (1904-1980) name is synonymous with experimental lithography. Born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, he immigrated to the United States with his family in 1918, and later studied at the Massachusetts Normal Art School and the School of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He graduated from the latter in 1929 and received its prestigious James William Paige Traveling Fellowship, affording him the opportunity to study in Europe for six years. The swell of European modernism at the time encouraged O’Hara to explore various styles including Surrealism, Cubism, and German Expressionism, all important points of departure for the artist in successive decades.
O’Hara moved to Albuquerque in 1942, and began his exploration of the printmaking medium with fellow artist Adja Yunkers. Both were visiting professors at the College of Fine Arts, University of New Mexico, from 1949-1950, and according to O’Hara, “The stimulating example of Yunkers’s imaginative approach to the graphics first inspired [me] to try [my] hand at woodcuts and monotypes . . .” In the early 1950s, O’Hara met New Mexico artist Elmer Schooley whose knowledge of lithography fueled and refined O’Hara’s unique style. Through the use of “unorthodox procedures, limitless textured figurations” evolved. By working areas of liquid asphaltum onto the lithographic stone, and through the introduction of wrinkled paper, foil, paper cut-outs, textiles, and mild solvents, O’Hara produced what Schooley called a “fragile evanescence.” His most recognized works are those from the 1950s-‘60s, lauded for their layered color—sometimes muted, sometimes heavily saturated—texture, intersecting forms, and allusion to the mythology and ancient peoples of the Southwest.