Sunday, May 20, 2012

Prints in the Provinces; reThink INK: 25 Years at Mixit Print Studio

Boston Public Library, The McKim Building

Since the hometown team was taking yet another spring beat down it seemed like a good Saturday to avoid Fenway Park. I instead followed my sister’s advice and we visited her place of employment, the Boston Public Library to see reThink Ink.
reThink Ink is displayed in three different spaces in the library which might have been distracting, but actually provides a good opportunity to explore the rich diversity of this museum-like venue.  

  BPL’s 1895 McKim building is a pleasing pastiche of European architectural styles and 19th century public art, featuring a keystone by Saint-Gaudens. The airy, expansive scale of Copley Square and Trinity Church lend a “palazzo” feel to the library façade.
Lush interior architectural details abound; aside from all the spectacular murals by John Singer Sargent and the like, are two exquisite marble or alabaster drinking fountains. The beautifully landscaped interior courtyard is a perfect sanctuary for a library; gently gurgling fountains soothe the psyche of harried patrons. 

A most intriguing exhibit at the library are the Wiggin Gallery Dioramas built in the 1940s. This small dark room in a corner of the 3rd floor contains a series of 12 intricately assembled miniature stage sets depicting famous artists in the process of creating some of their most well known plein air works or art in situ.
I’ve always been captivated by the diorama format; static yet animated theater that narrates a poignant fragment of historical content. Of course as the grand theater of the dioramas seen at NY’s Museum of Natural History trump all others in grandeur and spectacle, these modest little vignettes offer an intimate, almost voyeuristic view into seemingly archaic versions of art history.       

Rembrandt Van Rijn (1606-1669)
This story concerns Rembrandt’s wager that he could dash off an etching in the time it took Jan Six’s servant to go out and get mustard. Hmm, do you think they had some nice rye & pastrami waiting?

F.L. Griggs (1876-1938)
This British illustrator contributed to an early roadway guide, Highways and Byways for Macmillans. Here he is drawing one of the first Holiday Inn’s.

Thomas Rowlandson (1757-1827)
Help, Tommy fell over! Gotta wind proof your plein air set up. From “A Party Angling on the Thames at Twickenham”

   Jean-Louis Forain (1852-1931)
   This French lithographer is represented in his studio from a surviving photograph.
   He appears to be a tad cranky from all that peering & leering.

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953)
This Scottish etcher was known for his architecturally precise renderings of urban construction and demolition sites. His precarious perch is seen here as he worked on “Manhattan Excavation” during the 1920’s.
How about that name?!

George Bellows (1882-1925)
This 3D version of “Stag at Sharkeys” is the most eye grabbing of the bunch. You can almost hear the thudding thumps of pugilistic thuggery.

  Henri De Toulouse Lautrec (1864-1901)
My favorite in the group. (please excuse the limited photographic clarity, these things were difficult to photograph with an I Phone) Depicting HTL sketching in a circus, this masterful dollhouse construction includes two separate rooms with performers and miniature reproductions of HTL posters on the walls.

reThink Ink, a comprehensive exhibit of Beantown print makers, is an invigorating collection of two and three-dimensional print media that extend the boundaries of traditional technique. Culled from the artistic endeavors of Mixit Print Studio members in Somerville MA, the efforts of this distinguished and adventurous group of print makers encompasses a wide range technical expertise and innovative concept.
Although this show features only artists from the 25-year history of Mixit’s existence, the BPL has a long history of supporting Boston area print making artists with a large permanent print collection extending back decades.
Indeed, the more contemporary aspects of the permanent collection from Mixit artists are well represented here.  Of particular interest is the work of Robert Siegelman. His flamboyant but controlled abstracts nicely balance the dichotomy between decoration and gesture, while lending a fluid grace to playful compositions.

  ROBERT SIEGELMAN, Untitled (#2424-35) (1987) Monotype with watercolor crayon.

The Portfolio Project contains 66 prints “that exemplify the variety and inventiveness of contemporary printmaking taking place in the Boston area”.
Part of the Portfolio Project, Kim Berman’s  “Rethinking Ink: A Pathway” combines compellingly poignant landscape representation that invokes a toxic waste dump, with a socially relevant statement that doesn’t rely on an overtly demagogic narrative. All activist artists should be so artful.

KIM BERMAN, Rethinking Ink: A Pathway (2012). Aquatint and line etching on steel with a surface roll printed with Akua Intaglio inks on Hahnemuhle paper.

I found reThink Ink’s “Installations: Challenging Tradition” selections to be the most overtly engaging aspect of this exhibit overall.
Ilana Manolson’ s “Terra Flow” is rightly given prime wall space and takes full advantage of muted natural light flowing in from a main ground floor entryway. This chart-like, landscape oriented relief construction details intuitively conceived earthly contours, while fragile root forms connect floating sections that might otherwise drift apart.
Manolson also has an evocative print on display downstairs in the juried section. “Ghost of Tea Times Past” which features succinct use of figure/ground relationships anchored by finely tuned chromatic layering.

  ILANA MANOLSON, Terra Flow (2012). Maps from the Boston Public Library Norman B. Leventhal Map Center, root structures from my local neighboorhood and the Arnold Arboretum, plaster, and oil paint. 

 Ilana Manolson, "Ghost Of Tea Times Past" monotype 1996

Jan Arabas has found a way to suspend her print portraits of Cambodian children in a seemingly lighter-than-air kite-like contraption influenced by Cambodian craft and fabric. This simple yet elegant display case invites us to interact by strolling all around its delicate structure.

JAN ARABAS, Dtrou (2011). Double-sided monoprints hung in a red silk organza box suspended in a wooden armature. 

By contrast, in “Hyperion” Mary Sherwood Brock’s collection of dental/oral orifices, bulging eyes, and other variously garish body parts, demands and commands our attention. Clever use of serving plates hung in an oval-ish grid focus on printmaking craft as grotesquerie, effectively drawing the viewer in for a closer look at that which we might not otherwise care to see.

  MARY SHERWOOD BROCK, Hyperion (2011). Intaglio, chine collé, screenprint, and polymer litho prints framed under glass plates.

Heddi Vaughan Siebel’s inverted dingy framework on sawhorses invites us to share in autobiographical histories. This skeletal craft is adorned by tags scripted with short messages from viewers that engage in a kind of disjointed dialogue. The artist’s intent may have been to revisit ancestral identities, but the result is a form of unintentional social media; a sort of wishing well of amusingly Tweet-ish indulgences.

  HEDDI VAUGHAN SIEBEL, Far, and Further (2012). Monoprints with film loop on gampi and mulberry papers. 

Kudos to the BPL curators for installing such a well-coordinated, yet diverse review of Mixit artists. I do wish the well organized and informative website for the exhibit had included a post of the great video playing on the ground floor entrance to the show. Detailing some of the artists at work making prints, it’s a revealing and educational inside look at the printmaking process.


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