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The Sprawl of Printmaking: The Third Dimension

“Best of Chicago Art Magazine” series. Originally appeared on the site 10/21/2010

Molly Welsh

Ben Lipkin - Bag Grid

Since the 1950’s, printmaking has been consistently expanding as an art form in its own right as well as sprawling into other mediums. There are three characteristics inherent to print that have catapulted it to forefront of the Chicago art scene: it’s 3-dimensional, it’s versatile, and it’s collaborative. This article features three of many Chicago artists who embrace the medium’s three-dimensionality. Beyond deckled edges, limited editions, and concert posters, printmaking is about thinking and planning in layers, which is inherently similar in process to building a 3-dimensional piece.

Ben Lipkin, In a Shambles.

Musicians and activists have long loved screen-printing because of the capacity to make a lot of something and distribute it. It is also well loved by Chicago artist Ben Lipkin for the capacity to make a lot of something, make it big, and build something out of it. In “In a Shambles” (2010), Lipkin screen-printed four hundred yards of fabric, tore them all into strips, and used the strips as sculptural elements in an installation with PVC pipes. Screen Print definitely lends itself to this kind of industriousness, and is a perfect medium for Lipkin, who is very much a three-dimensional thinker. “I like the concept of modularity, and using a lot of different things to construct something bigger, which is a concern in both printmaking and sculpture,” says Lipkin, “I also like bookmaking, which is kind of a hybrid of print and sculpture.” In another recent project, Lipkin created a parachute that he screen-printed with glue, and then heat-pressed metal foil onto to create a gold leaf effect. Lipkin’s partiality to screen-printing is due to the capacity to screen print on lots of different materials. His books are made of fabric, and many of his prints are on stretched canvases.

Kristina Paabus, Roaming Fact.

Sarazen Haile explores an idea inherent to relief printing, that a sculpture must be made to produce a flat image. Haile uses woodcut to make printed patterns, which can be cut out and assembled into miniature architectural objects. I could break down this process simplistically and say that she’s making a sculpture to use as a template for a template of a sculpture. Ha-ha. “Woodcut is interesting sculpturally because wood is a solid material, but I’m not actually using wood in the final piece-only the memory of it,” Haile muses. The energetic marks of the woodcut definitely give the assembled objects their own life force. They are not flat at all but rather creature-like. Haile is particularly interested in questions that are bound up with the history of print, like the esteem or aura of the art object and the fragility of a work on paper. The prints are intended to be cut up, which is not something that people are naturally comfortable doing with a work of art, especially because a woodcut isn’t the kind of print you’d find on the back of a cereal box. “I see paper as being an interesting thing because it’s a really fragile medium, but when it’s folded up into a 3-dimensional form it gives the illusion of density and weight; an ‘object-ness’ that it doesn’t actually possess,” she says. Haile is now working on an etching of a table and four chairs, another cut-and-assemble piece. She hopes to put the template online so that people can print it out and assemble it at home.

Kristina Paabus, Syntax Cross Section.

Kristina Paabus’ is a multi-disciplinary artist who makes both prints and installations that intersect and inform each other, resulting in some pretty crazy ‘in-between’ spaces. Paabus considers her two-dimensional prints to be diagrammatical studies that are pieces of a larger whole. In the installations, she unfolds drawings into lived spaces, much like the approach of Eva Hesse or Judy Pfaff. Her installations almost always include prints on various materials, which is why she almost always works with screen-print. The prints and installations are related both thematically and in approach,” says Paabus, “When making prints on paper I reinterpret the printed image by drawing on top of it or printing it differently, and in installations I regularly repurpose materials both sculptural and printed. This negates any preciousness or singularity, and instead uncovers a structural interconnectedness, where possibilities are both limited and endless.”