Grouping the work of six women printmakers, the show now at the Willow Street Gallery in Takoma Park is modest in size, but impressive, in both the exploratory techniques represented as well as the results achieved by them. At its most fundamental, printmaking is a process that, by a variety of possible methods, transfers ink, colors, designs, patterns or even text from one surface to another. All of the artists in the show are practiced in the printmaking art, and all of them have used traditional methods over the years. Recently, however, they have all turned to experimentation with innovative contemporary materials and processes that have allowed them to continue to produce work in the traditional media of printing—monotypes, intaglios, relief, planographics such as lithography, etching—but in ways that are less toxic for both the environment and for themselves. Thus, the exhibit is exemplary of the ways that printmakers are finding “alternative paths” for their creative energies.
Included in the show are Adriana Baler, Marie Defeche, Carla Klevan, Maureen Feely Kohl, Joyce Jewell and Nancy McNamara. The show was curated by McNamara who taught for many years in the art department of Montgomery College in Takoma Park/Silver Spring where she worked with most of the others. From this there is some sense of a convening of women who have shared experiences and ideas with one another, while each keeping a distinct and individual style and approach. McNamara herself has branched out in terms of both her process as well as her imagery, becoming perhaps bolder and more abstract in the works exhibited. I particularly liked the effects that she has achieved with the use of a solar polymer process to etch without using acid or solvents. In these she combines organic forms with flat shapes that refuse to resolve into figures while suggesting them. She found a way to give the effect of gold leaf in these works by using a wax medium that shines off the surface, complementing the turquoise blues and black colors, and giving the work a spiritual feeling that is more profound than merely decorative.
Adriana Baler teaches drawing, and that fact is evident in her four monoprints in the show representing dark and light gray stones that have a remarkable sense of three-dimensional form. Baler uses Plexiglas plates, and prints in layers on an etching press. She achieves the nuanced textural effects evident here by drawing on top of crumbled tracing paper which is transferred to the plates. In the installation her prints are “framed” with only a large band of light textured wood under each print. These “bases” help to project a perceived sense of objects in deep pictorial space, especially from a distance of more than about three feet. These are very striking works which stand out in their strong simplicity and elegance of line among the more colorful work in the rest of the show.
Also outstanding for their innovative and complex technique are the monoprints of Joyce Jewell. These prints are the opposite of simple, with layered imagery that make them resemble collages. In fact, the technique that Jewell has invented to make these works involves collage, painting, photography, drawing, and a kind of lithography using polyester plates called Pronto plates. For a work like Star Swept Sky, the artist starts out by rolling Charbonnel Aqua Wash inks on the plate which act like oil but clean up with water. Then she adds textures using found materials, sometimes using more than one plate to create a single print. The plates accept photographs, and can be drawn on. There is much more than can be, and is done, to combine the images and drawings into one composition. Printed on a laser printer, each is hand pulled so that they are monoprints—no editions. As in stone lithography, it takes quite a while to fully ink the plate, so there is much proofing, time and patience required. The layering and combining of the process is evident in the way these works finally look with their compelling sense of content and density of surface. Jewell’s use of environmentally friendly materials in this recent body of work is paralleled in her subject matter that seeks to celebrate the beauty of the natural world “surviving, even thriving, amid the destructive consequences of human activity.” However, the message is not heavy handed, and the prints invite close viewing and can provoke other meanings for the viewer as well.
Maureen Feely Kohl also combines various media in a complicated layering process. In this new series of prints she is working, as she has said, “in the tradition of hand-coloring photographs, while experimenting with different mediums.” Kohl is interested in preserving those aspects of our contemporary landscape that are disappearing, forgotten, left behind. She is the treasurer of her family’s stories and pictures, and has extended this need to preserve in her own work. The prints in this exhibit are all based on digital photographs of a Chicago bridge. Once having the photos and printing them on heavy fine arts paper, Kohl adds ink over the image and then adds layers of pastel handwork over that. At times these prints look rather flat; at others they have an extraordinary sense of depth. The layering is actually rather subtle, and the deepening of the color effect is delicate. As in all the work in this exhibit, there is sensitivity to line and form in addition to the variety of processes needed to produce it.
The Willow Street Gallery, a part of DC Arts Studios, is unfortunately only open on Sundays, from 11-3 PM, and by appointment. There will be an artists’ talk on April 8th at noon. The exhibition closes on April 22nd.
Printmaking: Alternative Paths, Willow Street Gallery (DC Art Studios), 6925 Willow Street, Washington, DC 20012. For more information, email@example.com