My sociopolitical interest began unexpectedly in 1991 during a typical Sunday morning at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts cafeteria. This is where I had my usual corn muffin and coffee, and casually read the Boston Globe before walking over to the print studio. Unknown to me this Sunday morning would be different. 

It began when I came upon a photo reproduction that jumped out from the editorial section, and entered my personal world in a way that was unrealized at the time. When I finished reading and began gathering the sections together to leave, the photo came to mind. For a moment I experienced a sense of urgency—to rescue this photo from disappearing. After a frantic page-by-page search, to my relief, I found it, tearing it from the editorial page and carefully slipping it into my shirt pocket. It was the almighty chair of all chairs—the electric chair. A chair beyond any subject interest of mine I mused.

Arriving at the studio I began the task of completing a few unresolved abstract prints I had in mind at the print studio. Surprisingly after my lunch break, on the way back to the studio, the image of the electric chair reentered my thoughts. Captivated by its unspoken words, and not knowing why, I felt beholden to make it a chapter in my printmaking journey.

I began working on a 6½” h x 4” w aluminum plate, (close to the actual image size in the newspaper) as a test of sorts to see if a painted chair would survive in a powerful way that that would move me. It did and more! 

THE FIRST CHAIR,  Monotype,  Image Size: 6.5" h X 4" w

THE FIRST CHAIR,  Monotype,  Image Size: 6.5" h X 4" w

I really wanted to paint a much larger image than the actual reproduction but felt an irrational fear not to do so. Despite its small size the printed image held up well technically. It also had a painterly beauty giving a strong aesthetic presence to its iconic identity, that seemed to mitigate the dark associations suggested by the chair of death. Ultimately, this small but painterly image gave me the confidence to embark on an journey of exploring large-scale formats.


The larger prints ranged in size from 20” h x 16 w to 30 h x 21”w. All the painted images of the chair created at this time met my highest level of expectation. Coincidentally the largest of these was selected for a national printmaking show in 1995. It was an unusual print because the painted electric chair was printed over an image from the experimental series creating an effect outside the intended look and feel of the series. To complete the print, it still needed a meaningful title—something profound and true. After many, many frustrating attempts, a title finally emerged that was worthy of the image: The Throne of Justice. It remains the perfect title with its sociopolitical implications.

Throne of Justice  Monoprint

Throne of Justice  Monoprint  

Continuing on, another idea that entered my mind required returning to a small format again but in a different medium: the choice was dry-point for incising the image of the electric chair into an aluminum plate. The scared and burred linear image would avail itself for numerous printings of single images and groupings some of which profile a religious icon. 

The dry-point image on the plate held up very well; many images were printed. When this repetitive inking and printing process concluded, I was surprised to know this small metal plate was used 54 times. It was now time for narrative of the "chair" to be expanded beyond its iconography to include the protagonists, and in this case, a male from depicted from the chest up screaming in terror, as well as a pairing of passionate “lovers”. that followed.

As a sidebar issue two other iconic images were introduced: cupid with bow and arrow, and barely visible a semi automatic weapon together in a large size aquatint/etching monoprint, beautifully executed. Several prints were produced, all different.

THE AGONY AND THE ECTASY II  Acquatint Monoprint Framed: 27.5" h x 33" w

THE AGONY AND THE ECTASY II  Acquatint Monoprint Framed: 27.5" h x 33" w

Again I returned to painting small images on different size aluminum plates that were placed a quarter of an inch apart from each other, some within a symmetrical structure, bilaterally flanking a centrally placed “electric chair”. Another image of interest was introduced at this time: a female face clutching her arm screaming in pain. These painted images were designed to form a rectangular format spreading out laterally out in two and three steps from the tallest center-plate, diminishing in size to the smallest at the ends. The images are iconic covering a wide range of social and political issues. See slide show below.

Finally from there I went on to explore an interesting viscosity-printing method, and then on to a series of large scale images 40” h x 30” w using a  collagraphic aluminum plate I had prepared. The throne-like electric chair was now envisioned to become a visual portrait reflecting a time in the realm of crime and punishment, and art history unlike anything before. To offset the confrontational and gruesome aspect of the chair an ornamental boarder was added. Many images were printed from this plate; all different and imposing, reflecting the wide range of issues connected to it.

John Avakian April 3, 2019


UNTITLED WITH SCREAM   Monotype  Paper size:

UNTITLED WITH SCREAM   Monotype  Paper size: