Looking from the outside in, one might think the variety of works currently adorning the Mazmanian Gallery are unrelated, with their wide range of shapes, sizes and colors. However, there is a distinct common thread connecting them. All of the diverse creations were crafted through the process of printmaking, giving the exhibit its name, “Out of the Fold: Student Prints, Artist Books and Printstallations.”
The show was spearheaded by Marc Cote, professor of art and interim dean of Arts and Humanities, with the majority of the works having been created in his printmaking classes.
So what is printmaking?
For the most part, its name is self-explanatory. The artist creates a design matrix or cast which will hold the ink, and uses it to print the design on the canvas, similar to how a newspaper is printed. Though the process and material varies greatly based on the type of printmaking, all follow this basic procedure.
“Printmaking was established as the ‘democratic art,’” Cote said, “because multiples could be made of an image, and yet could still maintain that air of authenticity.”
As the contents of the gallery demonstrate, printmaking is not restricted to two dimensions. Nor are the three-dimensional pieces restricted to a single design style. Rather, the students in Cote’s “Topics in Advanced Printmaking” undertook both a “printstallation” – a printed artwork that is physically installed in the gallery in an interesting way – and accordion books, which are exactly what they sound like. The two types had the themes of “organic architecture” and “divergent branches,” respectively.
One prime example of an accordion book-style print is “Scars Within” by Niki Orphanos, a graduate student in one of Cote’s printmaking courses, located on a pedestal in the back of the gallery. Its six inner panels feature increasingly intricate designs in white ink, streaked vertically with a blood-red accent, matching the minutely textured red crossbars, which frame the action of the piece’s central markings with an almost cinematic effect. For Orphanos, the emotions that inspired the piece are as powerful as its imagery, being based on her struggle with chronic pain from a physical disorder.
“I am a mother, wife, teacher and artist and continue to do it all while suffering in silence,” she said. She added that the support from her medical professionals is something she considers angelic, which shows itself as a pair of white wings resting atop the sixth panel, spread aloft.
Of the students trying their hands at accordion books, Cote said, “They had to envision a book that unfolds to become something more expansive both literally and illustratively. … They had to inventively employ vertical fold-outs as part of their overall design and narrative” in order to “move away from the traditional horizontal movement of an accordion book.”
Though all the pieces feature their own brands of beauty and creativity, it is the “printstallations” which likely dominate the attention of viewers upon entry into the gallery, since these pieces use the walls themselves as their canvas.
One such attention-grabber is senior Terence Tavares’s “Impact.” The impact in question is liable to initially draw a chuckle or a raised eyebrow from many viewers, as it portrays human hands stylized to look like tree branches (or perhaps vice-versa) letting loose eggs, which smash and ooze their yolks down the clean white wall. Looking past the peculiar imagery, however, there is deep meaning, with the smashed eggs representing man’s destructive side, but those still intact and cradled in the woody palms showing that he still possesses the ability to nurture and protect.
Stepping into the intriguing role of academic graffiti artists, Cote’s students perused the gallery a week before beginning their printstallation projects in order to shop around for the perfect real estate. It seems graduate student Aric Davis took this temporary ownership to heart, as his printstallation “Cracks in Nature” goes beyond merely decorating his spot – a corner on the left side of the gallery – but creates the illusion of its dismantlement.
“I wanted to give the feeling of nature returning and deconstructing the wall that existed,” said Davis, whose work shows a tree branching around the corner, transforming into cracks which force up the wooden shims from beneath the drywall. Up close, the details reveal the truth of the illusion, but viewed from a distance, the piece is quite convincing.
“This piece can serve as a simple reminder that we all come from something natural, and in time we will return there,” Davis said.
Just a few feet away from Davis’s is another striking moment of nature coming through into the artificial world of the art gallery in Adrienne Ho’s “Venus Fly Trap Duct,” featuring just that: a gang of Venus fly traps serpentining out of a small utility door near the floor, snapping after an army of flies.
Though not as spatially striking as the printstallations, the classic two-dimensional prints exemplify the characteristics and procedures of the printmaking genre. For instance, grad student Brian Reddy’s “Bird” showcases a total of five different experimental prints, leading up to a single finished product, with variations in texture, line style and field throughout. Similar is grad student Laurie Leavitt’s “Still Life with Shells,” which had her using the printing press over and over in order to achieve consistency in her compositions, with a variety of different pressures used to print with different effects.
Cote described how, for himself and the students, all the forms of printmaking are rewarding for their hands-on approach, allowing manipulation of the matrices and prints in any number of ways.
“To see those physical actions manifest into the flavoring of an image is really quite remarkable,” he said.