PrintAustin enters its second year with startling growth in scale and scope
PrintAustin founders Elvia Perrin and Cathy Savage have transmuted the print-centric reputation of Austin into a well-attended monthlong program of exhibitions and events, and have managed to stitch together Austin's many diverse printmaking circles in the process. Chasing after the coattails of the East Austin Studio Tour and West Austin Studio Tour, PrintAustin looks to be the next largest visual arts festival in the city, and by all measures is growing on the same exponential curve of the early years of the studio tours. Regardless of whether you wrote your Ph.D. thesis on the evolution of offset lithography or your only experience with art is the dorm room poster of your favorite band, PrintAustin should pique your interest. Most events are free to attend, and the festival is still at a size that's easy to wrap your head around.
Running on Austin's seemingly insatiable appetite for festivals, PrintAustin debuted its sprawling monthlong programming of all things printmaking this time last year. It's doing it again for 2015, this time with significantly more support, a larger group of events and participating venues (increasing from 50 to 80+), and an increased, less strictly local purview. As in 2014, PrintAustin is showing just about anything you could call a print, from the decorative to commercial product and poster design to highbrow contemporary art; unique works on paper, editions, even sculpture. Viewers can expect to see a wide array of screenprints, woodcuts, linocuts, letterpress, intaglio, etchings, new experimental process-based works, and archaic time-consuming mezzotints.
Not familiar with all of those? You could be in the next few weeks. Alongside exhibitions, expositions, and print exchanges, PrintAustin is ramping up the educational component of the festival, increasing the number of workshops for those who like to get their hands dirty, including discounted classes at the Contemporary Austin's art school at Laguna Gloria. For those of you less inclined to get ink under your fingernails, spend Jan. 24 at the University of Texas. See selected prints at the Ransom Center that morning, then head over to the Blanton Museum of Art for a brief Print 101 seminar with art historian Dr. Karen Pope, followed by a "Printmaking and the Artist" panel discussion moderated by Umlauf Sculpture Garden & Museum curator Dr. Katie Edwards and featuring notable panelists Sterling Allen, Veronica Ceci, Katherine Brimberry, and Bob Schneider. Cap off the day by viewing an encyclopedic collection of prints at the Blanton's Julia Mathews Wilkinson Center for Prints and Drawing.
Regardless of previous arts education or whether you can keep your monotypes straight from your monoprints, if you're only going to see one exhibition, then it should be "The Contemporary Print," opening Jan. 15. Like last year, PrintAustin's anchor art show will be held at Big Medium, set at the festival's epicenter in Canopy. Chosen from 600 national applicants, this show of 25 works is curated by Big Medium exhibition manager Kevin McNamee-Tweed and guest curator Kathryn Polk. McNamee-Tweed has knocked it out of the park with the last string of exhibitions at Big Medium (Barna Kantor's "40hz," Claire Falkenberg, Matthew Feyld, Jessica Halonen, etc.), and that in itself is reason enough to go. Polk (whose own work will be on display at Wally Workman Gallery) runs a lithography studio out of Tucson. Her many years of experience as an active printmaker (artworks in numerous university and museum collections) gives additional gravity to the jury's selections. It's a smart move to combine local and outside curation given the increased scope of the call for entries. With any luck, the Austin contingent will still shine the brightest next to their non-Texan neighbors.
If you are less interested in such a mediated experience or just want to see more than 25 prints in one go or are just looking for the cheapest original artwork you can find, mark your calendars for the PrintExpo, Feb. 7. The outdoor exposition held at Canopy is a new addition this year comprised of individuals presenting their print-based businesses alongside the unfortunately named Bin Fest – a vast collection of inexpensive, plastic-wrapped prints you can flip through and purchase at your leisure. (Oh, the benefits of editioning.)
The Expo and the rest of PrintAustin can induce EAST flashbacks, and not just because of the increased size this year – alongside the usual venues, plenty of individual studios will be opening up for the general public as well. You can see a slew of them on Jan. 17 at Canopy. Exhibiting earlier this year at N Space, Ryan Cronk's "Moku Hanga: Japanese Woodcut Techniques" demos are promising (Bldg. 1, #123), along with the sure-to-be-sharp "Translating Design: Prints by Oen Hammonds" (Bldg. 1, #220), but there are plenty of others worth a visit. Additional studios will be open outside of Canopy at Pump Project and Artpost just a few blocks away.
Of course, that's all without mentioning the bedrock of PrintAustin, those individual printshops and design firms that thrived off of a steady demand from independent music for posters, T-shirts, album covers, and other merch. These along with UT's printmaking reputation and significant print holdings laid the groundwork for Austin as a printmaking capital – places such as Slugfest Printmaking Workshop and Gallery, Rural Rooster, Bearded Lady Screen Printing, and Flatbed Press, most of which will also be taking part in PrintAustin 2015. Names like Mason McFee, Rich Cali, and Jules Buck Jones will have most folks in the know heading to Bearded Lady for its "Serigraph Show" Jan. 16, though anyone familiar with the velvety black only possible through the labor-intensive mezzotint process may cut out early for Slugfest's "ExtreMezzotints" that same night.
Printmakers in general are no stranger to collaborative efforts, their craft being centered around an impractically large, expensive press. From education onward, most printmakers find themselves sharing a workshop with others to split the burden. If the Austin art scene has anything to tell us, it's that strange and wonderful things can arise from collaboration, and it seems only natural that PrintAustin would be as much of a success as it is, being managed by those whose everyday labor is built around working in concert with others. Perhaps that's why PrintAustin seems so accessible and multifaceted. Museum snob, studio junkie, scenester, or complete novice, PrintAustin is the place and time to get your printmaking fix for the year and maybe brush up on (or learn for the first time) a little technique, history, and vocabulary while you're at it.
PrintAustin takes place Jan. 15-Feb. 15 at galleries, museums, and printshops all across Austin. For more information, including a complete schedule, visit www.printaustin.org.