Prints are exclusive things. And prints are inclusive things. Prints, in fact, partake of both those qualities in addition to whatever aesthetic and semantic information they relay, and here comes PrintAustin 2021, so let's take a look at that and what the hell we're talking about with this seeming paradox.
PrintAustin, founded in 2013 by Austin-based printmakers Cathy Savage and Elvia Perrin, is "an artist-led nonprofit organization working to showcase traditional and contemporary approaches in printmaking." They say "working to showcase," and they (Savage and PA Director Paloma Mayorga and their cohort) have been doing just that. And, from what we've experienced of the monthlong program at the start of each year, they've done so with great success. The number of participating studios and galleries, and the exhibitions and workshops and demos offered by them, has grown year by year, as has the amount of public engagement, until it's reached a just-barely manageable amount of activity for the interested citizen (to say nothing of those working-to-showcase).
This year, many of the offerings, whether of display or activity, will be virtual, and Arts Editor Robert Faires has a trove of recommendations covering both the online and in-person portions of PrintAustin 2021 (see below). But let's look at the underpinnings of all this celebration of ink and paper, and of that paradox we mentioned.
A painter or a sculptor or a metallurgist – an artist of some kind – creates a thing, and there it is: a one-of-a-kind object in the world, exactly what's meant by the term unique – before that absolute is misused by those to whom linguistic imprecision is, like, no big deal, dude. And, if rarity is prized, then a unique object – as rare as can be – will be most prized of all. (There are other considerations in play, of course; but no one's suggesting that Willem de Kooning's 1955 Interchange sold for $300 million because you can get a dozen of them at the nearest convenience store.) And while some original art, even the most wonderful of it, is within the financial grasp of you and me and other non-wealthy sorts, acquiring it can often result in, ah, egregious budgetary strain.
Mass-produced posters, on the other hand, endless sheets of images spun out by web presses and industrial offset printers or even that Hewlett-Packard sitting on your office desk, those are cheap AF. And – hallelujah, technology! – they're often stunning reproductions of whatever graphics were conjured for expression, too. But those posters aren't unique; they smack more of that other word: ubiquitous. It's like, back in the day, when your favorite little-known indie band signed with some major label and suddenly anybody could hear the formerly identity-reinforcing in-crowd releases piped Muzak-wise into those lumpenproletariat aisles of the local Walmart. Anybody else have an iteration of Van Gogh's Sunflowers on their wall? Anybody else need another Baby Yoda sticker for their laptop? Surely this is what the ancients meant by reductio ad absurdum. Guh, right?
But then there's prints.
"In a world where so much is made for the masses, I think having a collection of artwork that's wonderful and special and still affordable is pretty dang cool," says Savage. "Even though as printmakers we're trying to make the prints all look the same in the edition, there are differences here and there – because the artist is creating them one at a time. They are truly multiple originals."
Printmaker Katherine Brimberry agrees. "The beauty of a print is usually found in the unique nature of the process of being able to transfer ink from a matrix to paper in layers," says the director of Flatbed Press, where Matthew Forrest's "Nothing About Us Without Us" exhibition in collaboration with artists from Imagine Art is a vital component of PrintAustin 2021. "A distinct advantage of creating an edition is that not only is each print a multiple original, but the work can exist in multiple locations and therefore have a broader visual and sometimes social impact. I like to stress that printmaking is really just another medium, but it's also one that an artist can be very inventive with both the mark-making in or on the matrix and in how they choose to print that matrix. Artists are always finding new ways to create marks on the matrix."
"An etched line doesn't look like an engraved line or a litho line," notes Slugfest's Tom Druecker, a printmaker who's chosen to pass on this year's mid-pandemic program but points to Flatbed as an important resource for the print community. "The look of a litho wash is unique to litho and doesn't look like an ink wash. The rich black of a mezzotint can only be a mezzotint and looks different than an aquatint. The look of a carved line in a linocut or a woodcut and sometimes the grain of the wood can't be achieved in another medium. It's also appealing because, generally speaking, a print is more affordable. I'd love to own an original Tony Fitzpatrick collage, but they go for around $12,000. But one of his etchings is about $1,200." He grins. "I won one from him last year betting on the Packers over the Bears."
And just as there are communities of sports fans, so are there social groups of print fans – although we reckon there's a great deal more crossover among the, you might say, performers and viewers.
"There's a good deal of mutual appreciation between printmakers and collectors of prints," says Brimberry. "We are fortunate to have a core of collectors and enthusiasts in Austin and the state. You'll find a high amount of appreciation for the technical expertise in making a print and also a lot of curiosity about the processes that are used, but just as much appreciation for the images or concepts in those prints. Because of printmaking's long history in Austin's art community, there are high expectations of printmakers' techniques and concepts. Collectors and printmakers appreciate excellent work – mediocrity is not welcome."
But still, the community is welcome. "Since printmakers work or learn on shared equipment, they tend to be a very friendly, collaborative, and approachable bunch," says Savage. "They're interested in discussing the nuances of one technique over another to anyone that dares ask the question. There's just a great and welcoming atmosphere when they gather, and that level of enthusiasm about what they're doing is simply infectious."
Of course, other things can be infectious, too; that's a fact still foremost in our minds at present, thank you ever so much, COVID-19. Which is why this year's celebration will feature informative community gatherings online, for the most part – where the appetite for prints, those expressive things-in-themselves, will be whetted toward the rare occasions of in-person showcases and activities of PrintAustin 2021.
As has been the case with PrintAustin every year, the celebration of "multiple originals" comes in many forms: exhibitions, talks, sales, and demonstrations of printmaking. In 2021, these may tilt more toward virtual experiences than in-person, but as our curated guide shows, they're as enticing as ever. – Robert Faires
PrintAustin's annual exhibition and print sale fundraiser features 12"x12" prints by artists from around the globe. Each makes 12 impressions, 10 of which get randomly traded to other artists and two of which go up for sale with proceeds benefiting PrintAustin.
Each of the gallery's five printmakers invited a fellow printmaker they admire to show alongside them. The artists are: Ellen Heck, Susan Belau, Kathryn Polk, Andrew Polk, Revi Meicler, Emily Weiskopf, Elvia Perrin, Luisa Duarte, Julia Lucey, and Golbanou Moghaddas.
Kill Joy may be a West Texas native, but she draws on myths and symbols from all over the world in her compelling graphic images made in a woodcut style.
For this series, DeMarinis took photos at various sites – junkyards, refineries, buildings under construction – and made collages suggesting Earth's degradation and destruction by humans. The photolithographs, though, are printed with natural dyes on gampi paper and silk.
PrintAustin's annual exhibition, juried this year by Delita Martin of Black Box Press Studio, features five works by five artists: Chloe Alexander (Atlanta, Ga.), John Klosterman IV (Tuscaloosa, Ala.), Oliver Pilic (Kamnik, Slovenia), Laura Post (Fort Worth, Texas), and Cleo Wilkinson (Melbourne, Australia).
An online chat between Martin and Jeanne Claire van Ryzin of Sightlines opens the show Fri., Jan. 15, 7pm. Link with registration at Big Medium's website.
For six months, Georgia printmaker and educator Matthew Forrest has been collaborating with Austin nonprofit Imagine Art on a board game to help develop teamwork, community, peer support, and self-advocacy. The screenprinted result will be exhibited with a series of Forrest's other prints and lithographs inspired by art created by artists who call Imagine Art home.
How do you start collecting art? When is a print an original work of art? Genevra Higginson, the Blanton's curatorial assistant for prints and drawings and co-curator of the exhibition "Off the Walls: Gifts from Professor John A. Robertson," discusses these questions and others about printmaking and print collecting with artists and PrintAustin board members Annalise Gratovich and Pepe Coronado.
A live online talk by internationally acclaimed artist Raluca Iancu, whose work explores disaster, memory, and vulnerability through mediums ranging from printmaking to performance to edible art. Link provided with registration at PrintAustin's website.
Contracommon Collective artist Taylor Bailey provides an online demonstration of her process and leads a virtual conversation on topics such as memory and placemaking, landscape theory, large-scale drawing, and monotype techniques.
Prints from the Trade Portfolio, swag from the PrintEXPO, and other PrintAustin merch are available in a safe drive-through experience. Details and location TBA.
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