Installation view of “Making Impressions” at Gallery 912
by Reggie Micheal Rodrigue
In a world filled with all sorts of cutting edge art – digital/internet art, film, installations and performance art, printmaking sometimes seems like quite an anachronistic medium in the 21st century. After all, most printmaking today still depends on techniques developed centuries ago. Woodcut, the process of carving a piece of wood and printing from it, developed as a technique in 5th century China and spread to Europe in the 1400′s. Intaglio processes which involve engraving or etching into metal to create a surface to be inked and printed on developed between the 1400′s and the 1600′s. The process of printing from a stone and harnessing the repulsion that exists between oil-based media and water to create an image is known as lithography. This technique has existed since the 1700′s. Since then, other techniques such as monotypes, silkscreening (Andy Warhol‘s preferred technique), and various digital techniques have come along as well. However, printmaking still remains grounded in time-honored traditions, for the most part.
This doesn’t preclude innovation though, especially in terms of style and subject matter. The quality of expression inherent to the printmaking process and the obsession to adhere ink to paper some feel in their bones have both kept the artworld replete with a steady stream of new printmakers who carry on the traditional processes while still speaking to us about the world we live in now. One could argue that in the digital age, where most printed material has been consigned to the dust-bin of history, the value of prints could increase due to their preciousness, rarity and hand-crafted nature.
This thought was high in my mind on Thursday, Decemeber 1. That evening, the opening reception for the group exhibition “Making Impressions” took place at artist Roger Laurent’s Gallery 912 in Lafayette’s Oil Center. The exhibition focuses primarily on recent print work from local artists Bonnie Camos, Susan David, Justyna Frederick, Erin Jagneaux, Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng, Catherine Siracusa and Roger Laurent himself.
The fall weather was cool and crisp – the kind of atmospherics that make one both nostalgic and keenly aware of the present at the same time. I walked up to the entrance of the gallery and was immediately set at ease by the warmth of the scene taking place on the other side of the storefront windows. In the middle of a gallery packed full of works hung in a salon style, the exhibition itself was taking place on cranberry red, movable walls which made the white, cream and gray paper of the prints pop. The artists and their patrons moved between the walls, chit-chatting, drinking wine and appreciating the art, the scenery and themselves. It was a convivial atmosphere - so much so that it took me about twenty minutes to get inside the gallery due to a number of conversations sparked on the sidewalk, including three of the artists exhibiting there.
The exhibition itself runs the gambit in styles and processes, and there is pretty much something for every taste from prints that are sunny and cheerful to some that are downright morbid. The work itself may not be cutting edge or revolutionary, but the real draw of this exhibition is quality and craftsmanship.
Artist Bonnie Camos presents a handful of woodcuts based on floral motifs. They are cool and crisp, displaying an even amount of white paper and black ink. The artist also manages to coax quite a bit of movement out of her still lives through her handling of the woodcut medium. The flowers seem to react to the woodcut lines surrounding them, bending and flowing in various directions according to the logic of each individual image. They work on this level, but when viewing them, I was still yearning for a bit more. When I view art, one thing that tells me that what I’m looking at is exceptional is when I can see the idiosyncrasies of the artist coming to the fore in the work. With these images, despite their graphic punch, I felt like they could have been made by just about anyone with a high degree of technical ability.
Printmaker and painter Susan David offers some of the most chilling work on view in “Making Impressions.” David has always had a penchant for the darker corners of life. Recently a collaboration with playwright Dayana Stetco sent her directly into one of these corners. The play they were both working on involved allusions to insects. David became obsessed with all things that creep and crawl on six legs and, she even began collecting them despite a serious repulsion to them. David told me at the opening that every time she picked up a fly for her collection, her gag reflex would kick in. Now, that is commitment to one’s art! From her interaction with Stetco and her bug collection, David came up with a suite of woodcut images (some involve layers of images) that explore a range of topics from comparisons of insect exoskeletons and human skeletons to the transmission of the bubonic plague. Despite the dark nature of the work, David’s gothic woodcuts are beautiful, haunting and truly deserving of a close look.
Justyna Frederick is somewhat the odd duck in the group, presenting a handful of paintings and sculpture in the exhibition. Fredericks’ paintings exist somewhere between slightly surreal abstractions and Impressionist landscapes with a Louisiana flare. Her landscapes certainly display a bit of quirk (one of them is painted on top of a plaque shaped like a fish) and gestural/graphic bravado; however, they don’t fit neatly within the context of the exhibition and somehow skirt dangerously close to folk art and craft. The painting with the fish would work a whole lot better without the wooden frame it is in or if the painting continued to be addressed on the frame itself.
Erin Jagneaux is the other dark horse in the exhibition beside Susan David. Jagneaux offers a range of moody woodcuts, etchings and silkscreens that exemplify the gritty urban aesthetic of places like Brooklyn, NY. Jagneaux focuses on arresting figures that seem both lost and totally at home in their environments, whether they are inside cramped apartment spaces or surrounded by the decay of the city at large. In many ways, her works are windows into the soul of a young generation coming to grips with the broken world which they have inherited. Jagneaux’s works aim at finding beauty in unlikely places and candid moments. In this sense, they exude a photographic quality that is rare in printmaking. Through her pieces, the artist also shows that she is in command of her craft.
The most quirky artist in the lot would have to be Terree Tisdale-Kwarteng. One gets the sense that there are some esoteric and hermetic things going on in her work from allusions to the tree of life, alchemical processes, Kabbalistic wisdom, and theosophically laden abstraction. From one work to the next, Tisdale-Kwarteng transforms like a chameleon. Out of all of these artists, she seems to have access to both the light and the darkness of life. In one gloomy intaglio etching, she conjures a miasma of preternatural life that could challenge the likes of Hieronymous Bosch. Yet, in another work made with encaustic on paper, she works in a vain of playful, quasi-abstraction that echoes the work of 20th century artists such as Paul Klee. In this work, the darkness is held at bay by an exuberant use of color and whimsy.
Catherine Siracusa offers the smallest body of work in the exhibition. It’s also the most demure and silent. Her encaustic prints with oil painting are almost bookmark size. Yet they refer to nearly barren landscapes where lonely trees are isolated against somber horizons. The works are quite autumnal in feeling; however, they lack a certain amount of impact. In truth, they remind me of the kinds of prints one could find in the decor section of certain department stores – the sort of thing that goes well with one’s couch.
Roger Laurent’s work was one of the highlights of the exhibition for me. Considering I had never seen his work before, it was also a revelation. Laurent manages to pack quite a bit of excitement and action into his small, abstract spaces. His works here seem caught between the primitive and the contemporary – certainly not new terrain in art. However, Laurent makes this platonic area his own, and his prints are all the better for it. One piece in particular caught my eye. This diminutive etching with watercolor breaks open space while maintaining the integrity of the “objects” (some of which seem like modernist chairs, steel I-beams and concrete structures) being rendered by the artist. There’s a whiff of Philip Guston’s late work in this piece that gives it both heft and humor. Ultimately, it is highly enigmatic, which is why I keep returning to it in my mind. Due to this fact, I would dare say that it’s the best piece in the show.
So, “Making Impressions” isn’t the most even or revolutionary exhibition out there. However, it does have quite a few gems as far as work goes, and it displays a wide range of printmaking techniques that should fascinate any novice or master. On the whole, I feel a number of the artists and their works definitely made an impression on me. Much like ink pressed onto paper, some of the pieces in “Making Impressions” have been pressed to my memory and will be living on there for the rest of my life, adding even more richness and depth to it. Such is the true substance and nature of art.
(from left to right)
“Heliopsis Scabra Patula,” woodcut; “Tulipa Praestaris Fuselier,” woodcut
“I.N.S.E.C.T. – Institute for the National Supression of Emotion through Combined Technologies”
(clockwise from left)
“Bed Bug on Tan Arches,” woodcut; “Butterfly on Cream Arches,” woodcut; “In Breed 2,” brown ink on Chinese paper; “Scarab/Beetle on Tan Arches,” woodcut; “Bee on Cream Arches,” woodcut
“Women in Ricefield”
acrylic on board
“Fish in Landscape”
acrylic on board
“Take a Left at the Chemical Plant”
“Knees, Flowers, Cowboy Boots”
“Alpha and Omega”
encaustic on paper
“3 Trees Landscape”
encaustic print with oil painting
intaglio etching and watercolor
The group exhibition “Making Impressions” is on view for the month of December at Gallery 912, 912 Coolidge Blvd, Lafayette, LA 70503