Jennifer Roberts, the Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities and chair of the Committee on Degrees in American Studies, will give the Wyeth Lecture at the National Gallery of Art’s Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts on Jan. 20.

Roberts’ lecture will focus on the matrix – be it a plate, block, screen, or stone – used to create prints. The matrix is the reversal of any image put to surface. More profoundly, she argues, the matrix and its reversal imprint a “negative intelligence” on the works of art they create.

Roberts’ lecture will investigate reversal as more than a fundamental operation of printmaking. It will delve into reversal as a new way of thinking about art, and an opportunity to expand the narratives of our American masters.

A number of prominent American artists were apprenticed as engravers or trained as lithographers, Roberts said, giving her the opportunity to address reversal across generations, from Joseph Breintnall’s nature prints in the 1730s to Jasper Johns’ handprints in the 1960s, with a core focus on the nineteenth century work of James McNeill Whistler.

Roberts theorizes that because reversal is essential to the reproduction of art, it should inform thinking about patterning, generation, negation and the visualization of alternative dimensions. Beneath the plane of reversal lurks a certain mystery and secrecy, “the other side” of any form.

Roberts’ Wyeth Lecture, titled “Reversing American Art,” will take place Nov. 20 at 4:30 p.m. in the East Building Auditorium. All Wyeth Lectures are free and open to the public.