The processes of printmaking have always seemed a bit like magic tricks to me, ones in which I'm happy to partake in dazzled ignorance. Should you wish to break some of the enchantment, for any of plenty of understandable reasons, you're in luck as there is a litany of printmaking events taking place around Austin in conjunction with PrintAustin. "Call & Respond" at ICOSA Collective Gallery is part of this programming but does blessedly little to spoil the magic of the medium. Artists Andrew Blanchard and Jonas Criscoe are technically astute printmakers, both offering seamless maximalist prints with a shared visual vocabulary.
I get to the show early – five hours or so early – due to my confusing the opening hours and regular gallery hours. The woman setting up the bar for later lets me in anyway. I suddenly feel like I'm spending my weekend afternoon the way my parents like to spend free afternoons: wandering around back roads and stumbling into small towns to explore their junky antique shops, blasting country or Christian music on the drive.
Every contribution save one from Blanchard is a variation on an immediately evident theme, one he calls a Dixie totem. The totems are visually arresting stacks of signage towering above beefy automobiles of various type and size. The collection is striking, with each piece exploring within itself amusing contradictions of the South. The totems function as a type of Dirty South refrigerator magnet poem as you read them top to bottom: "GRAVE / FLOWERS // HOOT / -N- / HOLLER // GOD SAID TO TELL YO ! / HE STILL LOVE YOU // COUNTY LINE 924-955 / COMING SOON / ICE COLD BEER AND WINE" (from Dixie Totem XII, all arranged above a jacked-up muscle car and before a smeared-brown background that looks like the marker of a successful mudding trip).
Criscoe's works are similarly concerned with signage and backroads. His pieces, like Blanchard's, use a washed-out, vintage-feeling palette, to create assemblages of arrows (The Ups and the Downs), roadside or junkyard found objects and typography (Lake Street Jumble) and cars and parts (Car Bomb BOOM! BOOM!). Every inch of every work is covered, here evoking an expertly assembled Mod Podge collage, there striking a more precise balance with an arrangement of opposite-pointing up and down arrows. All are a testament to Criscoe's remarkable printmaking ability and eye for careful cacophony.
Throughout the show, the pieces mark directionality, employing variously facing arrows and cars and jumbles of road signs. However, whereas road signs need to relay the clearest of instructions in the shortest amount of time, the works here present an obfuscating collection that doesn't resolve itself even after lengthy consideration. You know where you are, instinctively, but with no clear orientation, the whole thing is a bit unsettling. Blanchard and Criscoe take familiar, stereotypical even, signifiers of rural roads and the small-town South and flatten them into one another, literally, through the process of printmaking. Somehow, though, through this juxtaposition, they manage to avoid one-dimensionality.
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