PrintAustin: Inking Out Loud with Cathy Savage and Elvia Perrin
The third annual showcase of multiple originals floods our artful river city
Merriam-Webster will tell you that a print is an original work of art (e.g., a woodcut, etching, or lithograph) intended for graphic reproduction and produced by or under the supervision of the artist who designed it.
Safe, dry little definition there, M-W. So good to see your mortgage is almost paid off.
Now let's take that definition, set it on fire, put some wheels on it, and send the enhanced thing on a rampage through the studios and galleries of Austin, Texas. Maybe it ends up as part of the third annual PrintAustin program that's adding an array of colors and textures and shapes and shades to our city's art scene this month.
That cunning compound of creativity called Canopy is one of the main venues of this multipartite gig running Jan. 15-Feb. 15. That flourishing fount of fabrication known as Flatbed Press is another. There are more than 30 venues between and around those epicenters, too. Hell, the Contemporary Austin's in on the game this year. Big time, big time.
So where'd this thing come from, anyway? We recently talked with PrintAustin co-producers Elvia Perrin and Cathy Savage to get some background before the foreground is covered with ink.
Austin Chronicle: How did PrintAustin, the first one, get started?
Cathy Savage: [In 2013,] I was contacted by Katherine Brimberry of Flatbed Press. PrintHouston was an event that had been happening – I think they were on their second year by then – and Katherine said, "Oh, we should really do one in Austin. And what if you wanted to lead that?"
Elvia Perrin: Cathy and I were already part of Print Matters, which was kind of on the outside of PrintHouston. And due to Katherine Brimberry's request, Cathy put out an email saying, "Who also wants to contribute?" So I answered.
Savage: We're friends with the folks in Houston, so we asked how they felt about us doing something very similar to what they were doing there, but we'd change it so it fits better to Austin. And they were all for it, and very helpful with everything.
Perrin: All the material, the handouts, how to contact galleries – they were so collaborative in that. And we were so grateful, because we had to turn around in, literally, six months from Cathy asking. That summer we got an advisory board together and just went full force.
AC: And for that first one, the epicenter was Big Medium?
Savage: Well, I have a studio at Canopy.
Perrin: And PrintAustin's a similar format to the East Austin Studio Tour. Big Medium is our fiscal sponsor, and they've also been a big mentor to us as far as approaching galleries and how to coordinate all the events.
Savage: We talked to Shea [Little, of Big Medium], and we didn't have any money, but we figured we'd just ask. And they happened to have the space available.
Perrin: That was for our "Contemporary Print" exhibition. We wanted to bring in work that hadn't been seen before, so we got three jurors together, taking them from three different areas in the art world. We got the Blanton Museum's curator, Francesca [Consagra]; Katherine Brimberry, professional practicing printmaker at Flatbed Press; and Jeff Dell, the head of printing at Texas State University, who has a very contemporary feel to his work. We wanted to catapult all these different ideas of what printmaking is.
AC: And what is printmaking? It's beyond simply making copies of a work – it's a medium unto itself, right?
Perrin: It's original multiples. Whether it's on copper, on stone, on wood, on cardboard – it can be pretty much any sort of matrix – and you hand-print each one. Which is what makes it so unique. But it's also nice that there are multiples you can sell at a lower price than you would a single original.
AC: What are some of the more innovative uses of printing technology that PrintAustin's featured?
Perrin: Orna Feinstein, who's having a show at CAMIBAart at Flatbed Press, she works three-dimensionally. She's printing on paper, printing on Plexiglas, thinking outside the box of two dimensions. Her work is screenprinted traditionally, but then it takes on a three-dimensional shape – which is really lovely.
Savage: Yeah, most printmaking is 2-D, so it's always fun to see stuff that's 3-D. And there was that one guy, at our first show, who printed on Spandex [laughs].
Perrin: And we've had Samantha Parker [Salazar], who does cutwork, where she prints engravings very traditionally, but then cuts them out and creates these big, well, almost installation pieces. She'll be doing an artist talk at Flatbed and a workshop as well.
AC: Are y'all showing your own work this year?
Savage: We do a lot of organizing for other folks having shows, and you never know if someone's gonna ask you to be involved.
Perrin: Like, "Ask me, ask me – we're artists!" [laughs]
Savage: Art.Science.Gallery asked me for a piece. And I have that studio at Canopy, which is gonna be open. But showing our own work, that's not the reason we do PrintAustin – although it's always nice.
Perrin: It is nice. And we'll be having our board members' show at Invenio. They'll be showing new work on kickoff night on the 15th.
AC: For the first PrintAustin, you had only six months to get it set up. How long does it take now?
Savage: Well, now we have some things set in place: We have a bank account, we have a board of directors, our website. So we start in the summer – it's still about six months – but it's not as crazy.
Perrin: But it feels like a year-round thing. Because you're always touching base, always talking to your contacts. Because galleries usually plan a year out, so it's – I feel like it's nonstop.
AC: Now that PrintAustin's established, are these galleries meeting you halfway? Do they plan to have something specifically for PrintAustin in January now?
Savage: Many of them do.
Perrin: The first year, we were in little suits, with our packets, going to galleries and introducing ourselves. They kind of thought we were crazy. It worked out, but it was a little difficult the first year. But now, this year, we've already gotten a lot of calls, people wanting to participate. Contemporary Austin is doing something with us this year. Elisabet Ney Museum called, a last-minute call saying they had a print person – which is really exciting.
Savage: Last year we did BinFest – we had bins at Canopy, where people could flip through the prints. But we're doing it as a real expo this year, with more bins, more artists.
Perrin: And we'll have vendor tables for the first time. We're bringing in Burning Bones from Houston, Iron Frog Press from Dallas. The Amazing Hancock Brothers.
Savage: Yeah, Flatbed's fair is a little more select with participants this year – it's invitation-only.
Perrin: So we scooped up some artists for the expo, so they can be a part of things in a more casual way.
Savage: What's really great about the expo, from the perspective of someone who's not represented by a gallery? It's wonderful to be able to sell your work and not have anybody take any commissions. I mean, they do have to pay for the table, which helps support the event – but they work out their own sales.
Perrin: That's why we do PrintAustin, why we started it – to promote the craft of printing. And so artists can sell their work.
PrintAustin runs Jan. 15-Feb. 15 at more than 30 art galleries, museums, studios, and other venues across Austin. For a full schedule of events and spaces, visit www.printaustin.org.