Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Ten Good Things and "Printmaking in St. Louis Now"

Hello All,

I decided to write about art for a selfish reason. As an antisocial studio artist, I know I need to get out more and experience the art scene, but I also realize the only way to do this is to be obligated to do so for someone else. Hence, the promise for monthly posts for Art St. Louis' blog. The topics will be determined by my interests and every month I will visit some art related venue in the St. Louis Metro area, be it a show, museum or artist. My goals with these posts are threefold: 1) broaden my artistic horizons, 2) encourage others to experience local art, and 3) promote readers to think about their own reactions to works of art.

These posts are not intended to be reviews, they will simply be my impressions and thoughts shared with you. You may not agree with my opinions, but because interpretation of art is quite subjective and flexible, lively discussion is encouraged. My only request of you, the reader, is to elucidate to yourself the source of your interpretations and be able to express them clearly. So often we decide we dis/like something without clear consideration why we feel or think this way. Spend a few moments thinking about your reactions before you share your comments.

While writing this introduction and the first post, I felt as if I should have a cohesive theme, or at least a title for my monthly column. Whenever I find myself in a tight spot, I nearly always hark back to memories of my grandmother. She was full of aphorisms and had a ready supply of commentary for every situation.  As a child I was quick to voice my opinions (rarely appreciated by others) and my grandmother repeated something to me often; it was the concept of "ten good things." When discussing someone else (i.e. gossip), you should say ten good things before you say anything bad. There was more to her concept, but I like the basic idea and so, when I visit a venue and write my posts, my goal is to find at least ten good things to share with you. Ten good things every month - how difficult can that be?

— Carmen Alana Tibbets, Art Saint Louis/Art Dialogue blog contributor

Mark Katzman. Nhà. 2013. Chine Colle Photogravure on Revere Ivory Suede by Cartiera Magnani and Handmade Yamaguchi Gampi Tissue, 11”x14”. Edition of 15. Courtesy of the Artist.

Printmaking in St. Louis Now” at the Sheldon Art Galleries in St. Louis is a diverse introduction to the world of printmaking. The exhibit highlights work by local presses and artists. As with any group exhibit, the collection of works explores a wide variety of methods and themes.

Definitions of types of prints are placed throughout the show, a helpful study guide for the untrained visitor. Many were familiar (engraving, lithography, monoprint), but others were unknown to me. One such is photogravure, a method combining photography and intaglio printmaking. Mark Katzman's prints of this type are in a corner, and small, so one is prompted to take a closer look. The darkness of the prints themselves further increases the gravitational pull. My favorite of the group was Nhà (2013). The first impression is of a moody scene, but further inspection reveals what must have been a beautiful day: a man in a white jacket riding his bicycle along a country road. It is a haunting image - so clear, yet so murky. I felt as if I was peering through a lens into an alternate world in which the sun shines both brightly and dimly at the same time. Of all the works I saw at the show, this one has remained intense in my mind.

Always drawn to animal imagery, I chuckled while scanning Stan Gellman's small prints portraying caricatures of French nobility. Each has a distinct personality, clearly meant to be humorous, with extravagant costumes verging on the ridiculous. Although they are different 'people,' I realized they all have the same bird head/face. Whether due to the intention of the artist or stylistic habit, it doesn't matter - the images are immediately comic and also a thought-provoking commentary on politics and human nature.

Tom Huck's 8'x10' triptych, The Transformation of Brandy Baghead (2007-2009) is a visual blizzard of black and white, both from a distance and at close inspection. The prints depict a story that is crazy/funny/disturbing and perhaps so complex, that I got it entirely wrong. Featured are beauty queens, vegetables, chickens (live and cooked), body parts, an impressive array of power tools and so much more it defies belief. Unlike some of Huck's other work, there is less contrast between the featured characters and background images. My eye was constantly roving from one detail to the next, trying to piece everything together. I particularly appreciated that the triptych is unframed. Although it is visually weighty, its physical delicacy is highlighted by its mounting - paper pinned directly to the wall.

The collection of works by Terrell Carter drew me from across the room. Indistinct human forms depicted in reds and yellows give the impression of happy people, perhaps on the way to a garden party. The background provides a darker context. It is comprised of fine lines of chalkboard punishment-like handwriting: "A good negro is/has ______." The work is best viewed as a collection and I think a single image would lose much of its emotional punch. I suspect that the brighter visuals could override the text so completely that you could slip these into a display of matted prints at a big box store and no-one would notice. I imagine one of these innocently chosen without a thought and cheerily displayed in someone's kitchen - what a shocker when the text is finally read and understood.

Benjamin Pierce. Praescientia B VII. 2013. Lithograph, Relief, 11”x38”. Edition of 15. Courtesy of the Artist.

Towards the end of the exhibit are two large works by Benjamin Pierce, Praescientia CV (2014) and Praescientia B VII (2015) In each, a collection of characters populates a scene, pulling the viewer through a mind-altering tale of his or her own creation. The citizens of these works are a perfect and disturbing blend of human, animal and childhood dream images to which everyone can relate. I stood there with my skin crawling, but couldn't look away. This must be a common reaction because the gallery has kindly placed benches in front of the duo. The entities inhabiting each landscape have a definite presence. They are together within the frame, but isolated from one another by conflicting purposes. Some gazed back at the me with glowing eyes, others were blithely floating through the air, but all remained in my mind's eye long after I left the building.

I enjoyed the contrast of imagery and color in Lisa Sanditz' Space Invader (2014). A large, agile snake dominates the foreground. It twines through spare, botanical etchings punctuated with light-hearted, candy-colored pops of spray paint. Incorporated throughout, like delicate flowers, are produce labels, the small vinyl stickers we casually peel off our apples and peppers without a thought.

Tom Lang. On the Floor (from the series 6.54). 2014. Polymer Intaglio with Blind Emboss, 11”x14”. Edition 1/12. Courtesy of the Artist.

In addition to the usual framed and vertical displays, some artworks are presented horizontally in bound form, either as books or newspapers. I was delighted by the digital representations of the books on adjacent small screens. The viewer can see the entire work, slowly revealed page by page, instead of being restricted to the single spread open for display under glass.

Travis Lawrence. Christening. 2014. Relief Print, Watercolor and Tea. 15 ½”x15”. Edition of 8/24. Courtesy of the Artist.

This is a diverse and visually rich exhibit - there are many things I would like to share, but I don't have space. Following my theme of Ten Good Things, I will restrict myself to ten favorites (something that I found memorable, not necessarily lovely). Completing the total, in no particular order: Tom Lang's simple image of the anterior half of a mouse (is it dead or merely asleep?); Travis Lawrence's collection of medieval-looking woodcuts; John Wahlers' Path to Enlightenment (2011), a patchwork of corporate logos; Cheri Hoffman's indigo blue Ancient Rorschacks series (2013); and last but not least, Courtney Millman's Breath of Fresh Air (2015), a bold depiction of lungs and spirit. Miss Millman, by the way, is one of the young artists featured in the complementary exhibit of prints by local schoolchildren in the adjacent AT&T Gallery of Children's Art.

I strongly encourage you to visit the Sheldon and find a favorite artwork of your own.
**An “Ask the Artist” event and closing reception will take place during First Fridays in Grand Center on May 6 from 6-8 p.m. The event will give gallery-goers an informal opportunity to talk with artists and printmakers from the St. Louis area who will be available to answer questions about their work. Artists in attendance include Terrell Carter, Stephen DaLay, Sage Dawson, Joan Hall, Cheri Hoffman, Kevin McCoy, Jeff Sippel, Ken Wood, and Maryanne Simmons from Wildwood Press. The Evil Print Crew will also be on-hand with the Evil Prints Mobile truck, parked in front of The Sheldon, and will provide live printing demonstrations and cool giveaways. Galleries remain open until 9 p.m. for First Fridays in Grand Center. Admission is free.**
Printmaking in St. Louis Now” is on display through May 7, 2016 at  The Sheldon Art Galleries , 6348 Washington Boulevard, St. Louis, MO. The Gallery is free and open to the public Tuesday 12-8 p.m., Wednesday through Friday, 12-5 p.m., Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., and also one hour prior to a Sheldon Concert Hall performance as well as during intermission. 314/533-9900.
Carmen Alana Tibbets is Creative Director and Owner of Agosia Arts. Based in Illinois, Alana exhibits her one-of-a-kind fiber artworks locally, regionally and nationally.