“European expatriate artists and their post-World War II students either transformed or founded influential ateliers and printmaking departments in Midwestern universities, turning them into the seedbeds of a remarkable flowering of the fine art print in America . . . . The work of a handprint studio is a fascinating mixture of the science of materials and of the body/mind of the artist, in the context of her/his environment. Its study has led to increased sophistication in the reading of visual language: signs, symbols and narrative.” – Susan Goldman from “Midwest Matrix” http://midwestmatrix.info/about-midwest-matrix.html
Goldman had it exactly right when her film about the history of American printmaking, “Midwest Matrix,” was screened at Bradley University during an Inland Visual Studies Symposium a few years ago. Printmaking’s highly productive communal context where artists collaborate with other artists to produce and define their discipline is the envy of other art forms. The process of training students in the subject, technology and history of printmaking defines, unifies and sustains those devoted to the medium.
There are only 2 1/2 more weeks to see the 36th Bradley International, Peoria’s multi-venue exhibition that is the second oldest juried exhibition in the country. Traditional and non-traditional graphic media, including printmaking, drawing, book arts and experimental techniques are well represented featuring work by 116 artists from 38 states and 11 countries. Kathryn Polk, a widely collected graphic artist who produces her own beautifully detailed figurative prints in a theater of neo-Surrealistic poses, is this year’s juror. Her drawing skill, print craft and love of subtle visual narratives make her an excellent choice to jury this extraordinary collection of works on paper.
While there are many exceptional pieces, Christopher Troutman in the Heuser Gallery is the most visually inventive and intelligent. Scale gives him a distinct perceptual advantage. He fills up every inch of a 5-by-6-foot drawing with formal dislocations that teeter cinematically. Titled “Up and Down, Kyushu and Illinois,” it collapses three horizontal images of a street construction site that impinge on time and space. Each is linked by co-incidental structural details in the rendered road surface and surrounding architecture. Drawn like a draft of a superhero-comic, it tracks abruptly as we blink through sections of its gestural episodic structure. Troutman escorts us through the center of an uncanny, almost Hitchcockian, municipality searching for clues buried in his fluid charcoal ground.
Other remarkable artists include Heidi Jensen, Michelle Martin and Maggy Aston at the Heuser Gallery; Molly Carter, Stephanie Russ, Lauren Lake, Nancy Steele-Makasci and Sara Smelser at the Prairie Center; Joshua McNolty, Tery Schupbach-Gordon and Beauvais Lyons at the Studios on Sheridan; Chloe McEldowney, Rosalyn Richards, Anne Mills and Siavash Tohidi at the Hartmann Gallery; and lastly Michael Barnes, Cathie Crawford, David Avery and Jen Watson at the Contemporary Art Center.
Printmakers were essentially the first do-it-yourself art community. They were quick to embrace challenging new technologies like hybrid photo-processes and digital imaging. They enlivened mediums like painting and ceramics with reflexive narration, readily appropriating images from popular media and engaging in uncompromising social commentary. Because the discipline is so combinative and prevalent in universities, it has an intellectual connection to creative writing and music – disciplines that also require heightened levels of perception and repetitive practice.
Printmaking is the most democratic fine art as numbered editions make it affordable without compromising aesthetic or qualitative integrity. It’s well known for contemplative imagery relating poignant, often amusing, personal narratives about ordinary experiences – attributes the original Moderns traded in. The practice is united by an attention to craft that demands labor-intensive hours seeking the perfect mark and the most vivid impression. Even the most radical print artists value tradition and look to extend graphic art’s history – our history – a Midwest narrative that is a sober alternative to the fatuousness of mass media and the aimlessness of globalism.
The Exhibition runs until April 17 at the Heuser Gallery and Hartmann Gallery at Bradley, the Studios On Sheridan, the Prairie Center of the Arts and the Contemporary Art Center.