Exploring the Possibilities of Printmaking and Paper | Art

As a contemporary craft, printmaking finds a natural kinship in the arts of book and papermaking. Although many fine art printmakers use trade papers and create frameable pieces for the wall, others explore the physicality of the formed sheet or the possibilities of imagery and text in sequence. Some of the most ambitious make objects that enter the realm of sculpture.

Together, two current local shows offer audiences a sense of possibility. Located downtown, The Ink Shop Printmaking Center is a co-operative studio and gallery that has long focused on what might be called paper arts. Recently opened, their “Member Show 2022” includes prints and books of new names as well as long familiar names.

At Cornell’s College of Architecture, Art and Planning through this Friday, “Pulp Fiction” examines the possibilities of papermaking today. The emphasis is on the raw and the sculptural. Featuring undergraduate work alongside pieces by Ink Shop mentor and associate Julianne Hunter, the show is loosely presented and tentative, but still worth watching.

For those in the know, “Member Show” offers little to no revelations. Still, the opportunity to see mostly unknown works by some of Ithaca’s most esteemed artists should not be passed up. It is worth highlighting the work of the new members of the gallery, some of whom are presented here for the first time.

Melissa Conroy, a pandemic-era rookie and Human Centered Design lecturer at Cornell, is an interdisciplinary artist in the best sense of the word. Her recent work exchanges images and ideas about the process between machine-woven textiles and works on paper. His two ink-on-paper pieces follow a generous solo exhibition earlier this year at Cornell and his inclusion in the recent Common Thread Invitational textile art exhibition at the Corners Gallery. She is not known as an engraver but has recently taken up etching.

One might have hoped to see some of his efforts, however timid, in this unfamiliar medium. Still, it’s hard to argue against the exuberance of his two pieces here, which combine thinned, full-throttle color ink bubbles with interconnecting lines of black. The titles, “Precarious Wiring” and “Reconsidering Synapses”, tell the story – an offbeat science pop fantasia.

Although she has exhibited at the boutique before, Leslie Ford is still a newcomer by co-op standards. Like Conroy, Ford works between various media – in his case, painting, printmaking and photography. In three “Study for Curtain Wall” monotypes, she uses pigmented beeswax on Thai paper. Brilliant iridescent slabs of color – they look like stacked stones – protrude from the delicate, crumpled black sheets.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy everything here. A pair of gray to black acrylic canvases by newest member Nathan Dann render occult and pagan figures in a distinctly rudimentary technique. Not knowing any of the artist’s other works, I couldn’t help but wonder what these paintings were doing here, in an exhibit that also includes some of Ithaca’s most accomplished printmakers.

Likewise, I’ve long tried to appreciate Rebecca Godin’s digitally altered photography, which has a sort of garish post-Pop affect applied to usually ordinary scenes.

Regular visitors to the store will recognize the often excellent work of many long-time members. Whether it’s the cartoon-style woodcut flora and fauna of Jenny Pope, the flowing expressionist monotypes of Christa Wolf or the intricate monochrome prints of Judy Barringer, there’s plenty to do here.

Kumi Korf (a 1977 Cornell MFA) is an abstract bookmaker and printmaker with an unabashedly lyrical sensibility. Here she presents “Modernist Crossing River”. The vertical print, relatively small for her, submerges calligraphic lines and Pollock-style splashes in an amorphous, translucent color space. (Visitors to Cornell might look for “Grande Rio,” an oversized Color Field-style acrylic painting on canvas, currently on display in the main hallway of the university’s Olin Library. The work is a collaboration between Korf and fellow artist Katherine Freygang. Both works are from 2016.)

While past exhibitions at the store have featured sculptural and experimental artist books, new member Laura Rowley presents several more traditional books from her Illuminated Press imprint. They are beautiful, thoughtful works and the ability to walk through them (gloves are provided) is welcome.

More interesting, however, in the context of gallery art, is new member Melody Wu’s “Being”, an experimental “book” consisting of pages of Japanese paper printed with typographic text and individually hung on thread, like leaves on a clothesline. The delicate paper, dotted with poetic fragments, is interrupted by hand-woven areas in eloquent shades evoking spring. The text presents weaving as a metaphor. “Imagine your body the loom: the frame of all things,” he opens.

Given the student self-curation and Cornell Art Department’s busy exhibition schedule, “Pulp Fiction” can be forgiven for lacking the gallery polish of an Ink Shop show. Likewise, even without prior knowledge of the work of these BFA artists, it is evident that the work here is tentative and exploratory in nature.

Drawing inspiration from the aesthetics of minimalism and post-minimalism, the works here are arranged on the wall in serial grids or alternately stacked or scattered. It is a set of deliberately restrictive approaches, no doubt academic in the pejorative sense. Much of what has been made here could be on display in an upscale gift shop. That we are invited to view this as avant-garde art should inspire questions in the thoughtful viewer.

Julianne Hunter was the 2021-2022 Kahn Scholar at the Ink Shop and is currently a guest critic and print studio manager at Cornell. An exhibition of his work called “Ghost Collective” filled the downtown gallery earlier this year. It includes handmade paper works and innovative cut paper sculptures as well as relatively traditional prints incorporating personal photographs or hand drawings.

With the exception of sculpture, all of these elements are present in his varied contributions here. Two large grid works are particularly noteworthy: “Things left I” and “Things left II,” both dating back to his 2017 MFA thesis at SUNY New Paltz. Both are in identical square frames and each features a seven-by-seven grid of small square sheets. We see gradients, going from deep blue at the top to white at the bottom.

It is characteristic of “artistic” papermaking to use unusual materials. Here, Hunter uses his late father’s blue jeans to mold paper. This sentimental association is underlined by the embossing, taken from the remains of the same jeans. We see the repeated image of a pocket in the first piece while the front of the whole garment appears, ghostly, on close examination of the second.

I prefer Hunter’s work where he uses drawing or a less regularized manufacturing process. But those two “things” are emblematic of what “Fiction” seems to be aiming for – a kind of artisanal minimalism.

Judging from her website, Anna Laimo’s work, in various media, leans towards “proper” and pastiche horror imagery. Regular readers may understand how tedious I find most work of this type – as commonplace as it may be in art student circles. How refreshing to see her “No Sleep”: perhaps the most striking piece of this show. Using dyed denim and cotton pulp, the linens sewn together with bright red thread, the otherwise black and white artwork revels in its abstract and varied texture.

There is reluctance to publicly judge the contributions of undergraduate artists, especially outside the context of their other work and the pedagogy to which they respond. My hope would be that the young papermakers of ‘Fiction’ would incorporate everything they learned here into work that engages the traditions of drawing, painting and sculpture in more personal and varied ways.

“Member Show 2022” through October 28 at the Ink Shop Printmaking Center, 330 East State/MLK Jr. Street; open from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. from Tuesday to Friday, from 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday; www.ink-shop.org.

“Pulp Fiction” until September 9 at the Experimental Gallery, Tjaden Hall, 815 University Ave; open 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday; www.aap.cornell.edu.

About Debra D. Johnson

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