From our Newsletter: Fresh Voices, Time-Honored Traditions

The following was written by Katherine Blood, Curator of Fine Prints for the Library of Congress and the juror for our first Excellence in Printmaking Exhibition held last month. Here’s a look back at the exhibition and its winners. For those who saw the exhibition or for those who missed it, Katherine helps us gain a new appreciation for the next generation of printmakers. Be sure to mark your calendars for next year’s Excellence in Printmaking exhibition, to be held in February.

The history of printmaking can be seen as being both marvelously elastic and remarkably constant. It has absorbed revolutions from lithography (which sparked early debates about fine art v. commercial reproduction) to digital printmaking, while preserving traditional techniques in which artists find seemingly endless scope for innovation. As a core part of its vision, the Washington Printmakers Gallery encourages the use of traditional, non-digital printmaking techniques including etching, engraving, woodcut, lithography, and screenprint. The 2011 Excellence in Printmaking exhibit features student printmakers exploring such techniques in fresh, interesting ways. What follows is my personal response to selected works, drawing on what the artists themselves had to say.

"Girl With Bottle" by Hallie Edlund

Hallie Edlund, a student at Towson University in Maryland and previously the Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, D.C., brings old school rigor to her lithographs. An accomplished draftswoman, she combines realism and optical distortions in two black-and-white portraits of women seen respectively through a glass vessel (Girl with Bottle) and reflected in a mottled surface (Girl with Mirror). A third, more whimsical portrait in color (Bird Beehive) shows a young woman with a tall beehive hairdo topped by a nest and raven-like bird, attributes that conjure associations of 1960s Baltimore and 18th-century France!

"Face First (Pink)" by Samantha Hanson

Maryland Institute College of Art sophomore Samantha Hanson printed her black-and-white linocut, Face First (Pink), on fabric. She recalls: “I was struck with the image of looking in a mirror, but having the mirror cut off right below the eyes. Of trying to look at oneself, but not being able to make eye contact.” The resulting cameo-shaped portrait of a woman’s face, beginning just below the eyes, is intriguing and slightly unsettling. The artist added a touch of color by embroidering the lips pink, invoking the act’s historical associations with women’s domesticity as well as the kind of painstaking care required for
printmaking. Hanson is majoring in printmaking with a minor in gender studies.

"I Was Here" by Anna Wagner

Anna Wagner, who is now pursuing her master’s in printmaking at Ohio University in Athens and was formerly at the College of William and Mary in Virginia, submitted two intaglio copper plate prints including I Was Here. In it, she combines softground and hardground etching, aquatint, engraving, and roulette work to convey the chiaroscuro textures of a decaying, sun-shot building interior. Her technical languages join forces with the composition which places the viewer inside this transitory space.

"Never Again, Rodney, Never" by Eric Owusu

Eric Owusu is currently studying Studio Art and English Literature at the University of Maryland. His two narrative drypoint/etchings invite engagement and multiple, possible readings – a conscious choice by the artist. The small-scale Never Again, Rodney, Never depicts Owasu in a Washington Nationals baseball cap, sitting handcuffed to a “puzzled” clown. Both look ahead and slightly away from each other. Owasu adds further visual clues to the story but leaves each viewer to build their own conclusions. Conflict presents an intense moment between a man and woman, heightened by the surreal flavor of the room behind them – a different kind of decaying space. Their stylized physicality and expressions may call to mind Japanese Ukiyo-e prints showing actors at a point of dramatic climax.

"Intimacy" by Teddie Rappaport

Washington area commuters will instantly recognize the scene in Elizabeth T. (Teddie) Rappaport’s color mezzotint called Intimacy. One of the pleasures of this work comes with experiencing the contemporary, vernacular design of a D.C. metro train interior through the lush, velvety “burr” of mezzotint. This technique, which flourished in the 18th century, involves first pricking and roughening the surface of a metal plate before burnishing back the lighter shades of the image. Rappaport’s jewel-like mezzotint involved the layering of four copper plates. She is an undergraduate student in Psychology at the University of Maryland who plans to pursue graduate studies in Art Therapy.

"Cut Short" by Tonja Torgerson

Continuing the “something old, something new” theme, Tonja Torgerson’s aesthetic combines tradition and currency while exploring a serious topic. Of her color serigraphs, she writes: “I have used portraits to deal with the reality of illness while balancing a thin line between expression and discretion. These prints explore the altering of identity that occurs when diagnosed with a permanent illness.” Torgerson also deliberately uses such elements as color and humor to keep her works welcoming. Her woman’s portrait blends Art Nouveau, Psychedelia, and clean, contemporary design features. So Bad shows a somber, weary-eyed woman contained in echoing wreaths – an Elizabethan-esque collar of hypodermic needles and her own coiling hair, all inside a leafy frame. Torgerson previously studied Studio Arts and Art History at the University of Minnesota and is pursuing her MFA in Printmaking at Syracuse University.

"Rough" by Fawna Xiao

Fawna Xiao‘s screenprint Rough, one of the relatively few abstract works in the show, roils with vitality. Its surface layers read like strata with web-like passages above chunkier architectural forms and smoky wisps. After teaching herself how to screenprint in her parents’ basement using Google Search instructions, she began printing without a press, using wedding veils as screens. As her methods and materials became more sophisticated, she chose to retain in her work something of the “same rough aesthetic and attitude.” Xiao is a University of Maryland student, majoring in Studio Art with a concentration in Printmaking.

Among the many other not-to-be-missed prints in the exhibit are Manuel Paucar’s Asylum screenprint, July, Summer Weekend by Leah Curtis, Ian Jackson’s drypoint and engraving entitled Prairie Sharks, Sarika Sugla’s System I lithographic monoprints, and an array of woodcuts such as Catherine Cole’s Kate, Deb Napple’s Beaver Road, Barry O’Keefe’s Self Portrait, and William
Bruce Niebauer’s untitled woodblock/inkjet print. This gathering of work by student printmakers provides a compelling look at current and forthcoming energy in the field. Further, it represents  conveyed strength from their artist/professor teachers including John Carr at Montgomery College, Margo Humphrey and Justin Strom at the University of Maryland, Trudi Ludwig at the Maryland Institute College of Art, Tonia Matthews at Towson University, Jenny Schmid at the University of Minnesota, and Art Werger at Ohio University, to name a few.

Many thanks are due to the Washington Printmakers Gallery, the Washington Print Club, the Washington Print Foundation, and others who worked to bring us the Excellence in Printmaking exhibit including Gallery Director Annie Turner, Peggy Parker, Jenny Freestone, Kathleen Kuster and the participating artists.

And thanks to Katherine Blood for being our first Excellence in Printmaking Juror!

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