Back in the Stone Age, artists incorporated their handprints into cave-paintings. Since then, painters and printmakers have evolved into two different animals, with separate museum departments and everything. Now, 150 years after the first time painting was declared “extinct” and a half-century after fine artists resumed drawing on rocks (lithography), many Chicago artists are finding that an alliance of the two mediums is once again the best way to deal with our ever-complicating habitat.
Printmaking techniques allow artists to literally build space in layers, creating narratives that jump all over the place and happen all at the same time. The work featured in this round up doesn’t center on the painter’s obsession with capturing the light nor the printer’s purpose of replication. These three Chicago-based, mixed media artists have all found printmaking techniques to be an essential component of imagery that reflects our mixed-up world.
Wyatt Grant creates paintings and prints, or rather paintings-slash-prints, that are deeply rooted in process, although not a process necessarily familiar to painters or printmakers. Similar to Kiki Smith’s early fiber installations with screen-print, Grant burns images onto silk screens, or carves wood blocks, in order to use their components as a way to intuitively construct images on fabric. Falling Tree (2010) is a seventy-layer (!) screen-print on canvas, in an ironic edition of two. The piece commanded attention in Spill, an undergraduate painting show at SAIC’s Betty Rymer Gallery. “When I submitted it to the show they thought it was a painting, then it ended up being the only print in the show,” muses Grant. “Print has a lot of advantages to me as a painter because it allows me to communicate the working process…. I find the limitations of having components that are carved into wood or burned into a screen very stimulating. It’s like you have these circumstances and then you just start moving them around and solving problems as they arise. It’s not as negotiable as painting,” he says. Grant likes to think of using a picture plane or landscape as a container for different content, remarking that his images keep in mind his own generation and their five-minute attention spans. By dividing the space into a grid and printing layer upon layer, his process produces a scene within a scene in the same image.
Kim Laurel similarly employs printmaking as another way to extend and alter her own hand. She is attracted to printmaking techniques for the unique tones it can produce as opposed to the to the capacity for replication. Laurel views her small-scale works on paper as ‘tiny worlds,’ which are shrouded in conceptually dense stratospheres. This sort of spherical layering seems to perfectly describe the structure of Laurel’s work, “I like to build and layer,” she says, “Vintage found images are integrated into my work along with my own. Mythology, history, science and literature fuel my imagery,” says Laurel. In terms of printmaking techniques, Laurel prefers multiple-pass monoprinting, which is in itself a gray area between painting and printmaking. “With multiple-pass monoprinting I work with the ghost image on the plate and build off of it with various prints in work at the same time. One print may go through the press 10 times or more. Each finished piece is unique, but carries a common core matrix. I get all these components together after they are dry and address them again on the board in my studio. Some I let stand, others I tear apart and incorporate into other works and some are a base to be enhanced intact,” says Laurel.
Alex Chitty utilizes drawing, collage, painting, intaglio etching, woodblock, and screen-printing in the construction of sublime, enigmatic and pseudo-scientific worlds. “Much of my work deals with failed attempts at discovering what our place is in the order of things,” she says, “I use Xeroxes, magazines, and images from printed books, preferably books meant to catalog and fully describe a certain aspect of the world, like Birds of Europe, Microwave Cooking, or The Natural History of South America and Macramé.” Printmaking provides a way of mark making that is very relevant to this scientific model of searching and experimentation. “The printmaking process requires a dyslexic-thinking; a stripping-down and analysis of pictures into layers, colors, parts and pieces before putting all the fragments back together into a whole again. This mindset mirrors the processes involved in making my drawings,” she says. Chitty compares herself to a musician choosing a specific instrument to fulfill a specific sound, through printmaking techniques “I only use them when and where it makes sense, instead of just making prints because I like doing it- because I’m fascinated with the process and history of the medium.”