Last week we wrote about the idea of public art and its potential to get folks talking about it in the public sphere. That art, while requiring insanely special and refined talent, focus, and a line into meanings and stories deeper than our everyday grind allow us, should still not be pretentious or far removed from the society or individuals it seeks to affect.
So we are happy to see how the Okanagan Print Triennial exhibition here at the Kelowna Art Gallery (on until May 27th) has created an opportunity for us the public, to witness how our young printmaking artists-in-training are being inspired and taught. According to UBCO's Printmaking instructor, Briar Craig, the genus for this exhibition (it's on its fourth iteration) was to be able to show young apprentices top Canadian and international printmaking works "live". In the spirit of creating a stronger art and printmaking community, they have taken top juried printmakers from the local scene along with internationally renowned ones, in an effort to participate in the international triennials or biennials printmaking scene. Triennials are competitions – how much more democratic and popular-focussed can art get? It's like sports!
Printing is such a specialized art process that most of us don't really understand much of it beyond the basics. Here we get the opportunity to view the work of many methods, from intaglio (the opposite of relief - cool!) to lithography, to lino and woodcut, and beyond.
I love this exhibit because it revealed that printmaking today is as varied right now as it has been over the years (from fine detailed 15th century etchings to anti-war expressionism). I came for the bold subversive WPA-looking posters of Erica Walker, but was also wooed by the detailed ephemeral meanings washing around in the Noordermeer lithograph, or the surprising power of a realistic representation (never usually my bag) that jolted me into someone else’s reality in a hurry (Darian Goldin Stahl's "Vital Gowns").
At its essence, printing is about impressing an artifact onto a canvas in order to create another artifact, and in most cases to do so over and over again, so it's no surprise that many of the artists here are interested in the idea of replication and the print medium itself: how changing forms of reproduction affect each other, replace each other, how the tactile art of “impressing” makes ideas real, while others are into subverting its historical commercial and ideological uses (as the winner of the contest did).
Erica Walker was the winner of the Triennial, garnering her an upcoming full exhibit. Her pieces subvert the way progress has been promoted and championed like it's the national brand of North America. As if we need to consistently remind ourselves we're doing good. Full steam ahead no matter who gets trampled or left behind. Her posters evoke WPA propaganda of the "Loose Lips Sink Ships" type – also why is government propaganda of yesteryear so damn wonderful looking?
I'm a block, lino and woodcut freak - those muscular and crude shapes with no mercy for do-overs, looking all the more intentional in their bluntness, their inability to be smooth – powerful stuff. A perfect medium to depict our ever-present local concern with fire. Josh Winkler's block print titled "Fire" explores his themes of "disconnect between contemporary Americans and the history of the land" – something our colonial and industrial history in BC is attempting to reckon with.
Herman Noordermeer's print "Me and ?" is extremely frail and evocative, with what felt like many possible meanings. Interestingly the human skin picks up the look of a limestone litho stone. The photographic impression is interestingly so real yet so manipulated, revealing the symbolic work that goes into creating "reality". Noordermeer says he is into how "not only the idea but also the way of giving concrete form to the idea is what makes it interesting. The different layers of meaning that originate in this way emphasize the symbolic character of the images".
Here's a few more beauties, but really just go. All the prints are unframed and you can experience the printed transfer yourself – it's really cool. As Craig says the only challenges this art form faces is getting the word out. It's accessible, powerful, and attracts world class talent (especially given it's relatively low cost to ship and mount), so you're going to get a top notch exhibition that will appeal to a wide cross-section of folks. We just need to spread the word – ironic for a form that is all about reproducing ideas.
You can join Professor Briar Craig for a printmaking open house at UBCO on May 17th to see first-hand how a lithograph is made; how an etching plate is printed; how a screen print is created – and much more!