Less well known than his sculptures and design objects, Bertoia's two-dimensional work was his most prolific and sustained practice. The Two-Dimensional classification covers the artist’s drawings, paintings, prints, and archival material. Drawings and paintings are few in number, and mostly date to the earliest years of Bertoia’s career; prints comprise by far the most numerous and conceptually important facet of his work in two dimensions. Bertoia’s first prints were woodcuts, notable for their rare figurative imagery. But the process of making a woodcut only allows for limited modifications of a single image, and thus could not accommodate Bertoia’s drive for visual experimentation. Moving away from these types of repeated images, the artist developed a unique form of “block printing” in which small pieces of geometrically-shaped wood were inked and stamped directly on paper. This technique produced many variations in color and opacity; the resulting prints, sometimes mistaken for paintings, exhibit densely interlocked networks of shape and hue.
Ultimately, Bertoia settled on the monotype as his preferred form of two-dimensional expression. Monotypes, or single-impression prints, were created in a low-tech, often spontaneous manner. Bertoia typically made his monotypes by coating a glass or masonite plate with ink, pressing a dampened, translucent piece of paper over the plate, and applying pressure on the back of the paper with small tools or rollers to create an image. The artist began making monotypes while teaching at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Although Cranbrook was a highly collaborative environment, no formal instruction in printmaking was offered and Bertoia developed his technique on his own through trial and error. Unlike his work in sculpture and design, the practice remained a solitary endeavor throughout his career. Public recognition, however, was quick to arrive. In the early 1940s, Bertoia exhibited prints nationally and sold large groups of monotypes to Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and Hilla Rebay, founder of the Museum of Non-Objective Painting (now the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum) in New York.
Each monotype is unique, but the printing method allowed Bertoia to create tightly-related groups of abstract imagery and, occasionally, more formally titled series like the early Synchromy prints and the posthumously published Fifty Drawings. Monotypes were closely related to sculpture, but one should be cautious in assigning these prints the status of a preparatory study for a three-dimensional work. Rather, Bertoia utilized the monotype to imagine various configurations of line and shape, often rendering these sculptural ideas in a three-dimensional space but rarely producing an exact match of a sculptural object.
Archival material is also included in the two-dimensional category. These informal sketches and studio records are not considered complete, stand-alone artworks; there is little evidence that Bertoia intended these materials for public consumption, as he did not publish, sell, donate, refer to in interviews, or exhibit these objects during his lifetime. Accordingly, archival materials are not assigned catalogue raisonné numbers, but are published on this website in order to document and provide insight into the artist's working process.