First Impressions: Sol Print Studios
through Nov. 30 at Stevenson University
For many artists, printmaking is a magical act. Working in a series, with the ability to make subtle changes, is an ideal way to make art because it mimics the flexibility of the thinking process. However, few artists today make prints, favoring more direct methods of expression, like drawing, painting, or collage. Unless you're making dead-fish prints, like many elementary school kids do, you will need a press, ink, brayers, printing plates, special paper, expertise, and a host of toxic cleanup supplies. Although the majority of artists will tell you they would love to make prints, there are very few opportunities and environments to do so.
First Impressions, the current exhibition in Stevenson University's St. Paul Companies Pavilion Gallery, is a terrific argument for printmaking, despite its obstacles. The show features prints by Gloria Askin, Joan Belmar, Oletha DeVane, Joe Kabriel, Katherine Kavanaugh, Gabriella Morawetz, Christine Neil, Pamela Phillips, Leslie Portney, Randi Reiss-McCormack, Soledad Salamé, Joyce Scott, and Ruby Yunis. This group of notable painters, sculptors, and mixed-media artists are all united through participation in a series of workshops at Sol Print Studios, a local Baltimore print atelier.
Founded in 2009 by Soledad Salamé, a printmaker and multimedia artist of international acclaim, the workshop encourages artists of all backgrounds and levels of expertise to create solar etchings and monoprints in Salamé's light-filled studio. Each workshop includes no more than four artists at a time and occurs over three consecutive, full days-not unlike a printmaking marathon. Rather than giving safe recipes or assignments to her students, Salamé works with artists on an individual basis, suggesting techniques and approaches so that each develops their own personal trajectory.
"I like the intimacy of Soledad's workshops, of working with two or three accomplished artists" says Christine Neil, a painter and professor at MICA. Neil enrolled in the workshops after struggling with a new body of work. "Sol speaks definitively about printmaking and does not hesitate to tell an artist what will work and what won't. I trusted Soledad's suggestions and learned a lot by doing so."
Sol Print Studios' primary use of solar-plate etching, an immediate and non-toxic method for creating highly nuanced images, is rare. For Neil and many other participants, the technique wasn't completely new, but working with Salamé made all the difference.
"She introduced several printing techniques I hadn't used before," explains Neil, whose new series of botanical prints pairs delicate linear structures with loose, a la poupee monoprinting and dramatically embossed areas. Later, Neil incorporated drills, a dremel, glue guns, and hot exacto knives into her embossing technique, at the influence of her husband, a "tool guy." "While these tools gave the etchings a dimension that worked well for this set of prints, the skills I learned are transferable to other works as well," says Neil, who is already working on her next body of work.
Katherine Kavanaugh, another MICA professor and participant, has been making sculpture and installation for over two decades. In the last few years, she has turned to collage as a way to combine photographs of her constructions. Kavanaugh has completed three workshops since May 2012 to prepare for a month-long printmaking residency in Ireland this fall. Her series, titled "Axis I-V," features layers of imagery created by multiple combinations of printing plates.
"As a teacher myself, I am appreciative of Sol for having the sensitivity to each student's unique voice and honoring that while, at the same time, nudging us to move into unfamiliar territory in printmaking," says Kavanaugh. "Sol has an ability to communicate her ideas clearly, to understand color and technique and to help us to move beyond our resistances."
Randi Reiss-McCormack took her first workshop with Salamé because she wanted to continue the process of intaglio etching she had used much earlier in her career. At Stevenson, she exhibits "Relentless I-IV," a four-panel print with bold, looping shapes that falls somewhere between abstraction and pattern, based on images from X-rayed luggage and imaginary landscapes. "I had hoped to learn a simple technique, but instead I reacquainted myself with the connections of the printmaking process that pervade the ways I approach all my work," explains Reiss-McCormack. "Printmaking always seems to be rife with happy accidents, and even if they are not always happy, they lead you in a direction you did not intend to take-that's where the excitement starts."
Like Reiss-McCormack, Leslie Portney's workshop experience took her work in unexpected directions. "I enrolled in the Sol Print Studios Workshop to invigorate my ideas and to develop more as an artist," says Portney, primarily a ceramics sculptor. "I had hoped to experiment with encaustic, but this process led me to drawing as a means to create new imagery. This was a totally unexpected development and I am thrilled that printmaking has led me back to drawing." At Stevenson, Portney's "Heart Series" explores the organ from a biological, emotional, and symbolic standpoint.
Art-jewelry maker Gloria Askin enrolled in Sol Print workshops four years ago, to explore her relationship with color and texture. Her jewelry has been included in several books and is sold in gallery-shops all over the country. "Soledad saw in my jewelry work a possibility for me to expand my language," says Askin. "It was a life changing experience." At Stevenson, Askin's print series explores femininity through three-dimensional layers. The series, titled "Just Like Me," combines cut sections of prints on Japanese rice paper and silk organza, and they tumble across the paper in veil-like ruffles.
Oletha DeVane, a local educator and gallery director, has exhibited her multimedia works most recently in the 2010 Sondheim Semi-Finalist Exhibit and 2011 Corridor at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D.C. She first enrolled at Sol Print Studios Workshop in 2010, in order to work on a mutual project with Salamé and Joyce Scott, and has continued to add new approaches to her work through additional workshops since that time. Her nine-panel print, "Call to Freedom," features a raven to represent Harriet Tubman on her journey from Maryland's Eastern Shore. DeVane also repeats the image of a sweet-gum seedpod to create a textural background pattern because they were common in the forests of the Eastern Shore and were used as healing medicine by slaves. While the visual repetition creates a natural rhythm to unite the nine disparate images, their specificity transforms the rambling journey into a politically charged narrative.
On the workshops, DeVane is unequivocal. "Sol is an incredibly generous teacher and mentor. She has a wealth of technical expertise and artistic knowledge, and she invests the time with each of the artists at the studio in order to have them leave with their own body of work."
Additionally, many of the artist participants cite the workshops' emphasis on collaboration and camaraderie as a significant source of inspiration and education. "Working in a studio with other artists is invigorating and energizing to one's own art practices," says Reiss-McCormack. "So much time as an artist is spent alone in your own mind and studio, so sharing of ideas, techniques, conversation, and, of course, lunch is fantastic." During each workshop, Salamé encourages collective brainstorming and socializing among participants, providing communal meals and a celebratory glass of wine at the end of the day.
"I've found that putting myself in new situations and doing a lot of work, regardless of success, forces me to react intuitively rather than be too contemplative," Neil says of her new work. "The critical contemplation comes later, but by that time, the imprint of the intuitive action has made its mark and surfaces again in ways that can't be predicted. This is the mystery and magic of the creative process."