Comprising works by 29 artists and 5 presses, “Printmaking in St. Louis Now” was a testament to the liveliness of contemporary art in St. Louis generally, and specifically to the city’s continued engagement with print, on the part of its artists and its persistent and productive presses.
In 1978 Peter Marcus founded Island Press (originally the Collaborative Printmaking Workshop) at Washington University in St. Louis with a focus on innovative and large-scale printmaking. Island alumni went on to found new collaborative presses such as Wildwood Press and Pele Prints. Artists from around the country came to St. Louis to collaborate on prints, while other artists set up their own workshops, like Tom Huck’s Evil Prints, or were simply inspired to think and create in terms of print. The results of all this activity occupied all 7,000 feet of the Sheldon Art Galleries’ exhibition space.
The show was remarkable for the breadth and variety of works and printmaking approaches. Tom Huck’s compulsively detailed woodcut triptych, Transformation of Brandy Baghead Pts. 1, 2, & 3 (2009), formed the centerpiece of one room—a nearly seven-foot-tall gothic satire of rural life and beauty pageants. In her News Paper Series (2015) Lisa Bulawsky juxtaposed evocative words and images on newsprint, mounted them on wooden library rods, and invited viewers to page through them at will, a reflection of the print’s historical role as a democratic medium. Kevin McCoy’s Cognitive Dissonance screenprints appropriate a variety of images, from photos of Kim Kardashian to historic illustrations of slave confinement implements, to explore quasi-scientific racial taxonomies that persist in some forms today.A continuing fascination with grand scale was apparent in a number of works. Island Press founder Peter Marcus was represented by the 8-foot-long Roman Ruin (1998); Sage Dawson contributed Dust (2015), a 12-foot-square compilation of collagraph and linocut representation of a house seemingly undergoing its own demolition; and Acid Ocean (2012) by Joan Hall combines cast-paper marine debris, Mylar and handmade paper in an undulating, translucent work that spilled from wall to floor. Poised between nature and artifice, it suggests both the ocean’s power and its vulnerability.
Hall was one of several artists who considered the print as an object as much as an image. Jane Hammond’s Natural Curiosities (2010), made with Wildwood Press, is a contemporary Wunderkammer of faux animal skins, shells and insects of her own invention, all made from printed paper, mounted in a Plexiglas box. Bunny Burson’s Hidden in Plain Sight series is based on letters written by her grandparents as they sought unsuccessfully to flee Europe during World War II, and includes woodcuts, carved matrices, and envelopes transformed into printed metal talismans. Buzz Spector’s Effaced Nabokov (2014–15) is a hardback copy of Vladimir Nabokov’s The Original of Laura in which the artist has torn out pages systematically on a gradient, transforming the block of the codes into a slippery slope. The novel in question was left unfinished at the time of the author’s death and its subsequent publication was highly controversial; Spector’s adaptation adds a further layer of authorial confusion and loss.
The installation, by gallery director Olivia Lahs-Gonzales, allowed works to breathe, invited close looking and forged conversations among artworks within a single gallery. Such was the case with the prints of Yvette Drury Dubinsky and Carmon Colangelo, which deal with dizzying maps and dislocations in strikingly different tones. In another room, a wall plastered with overlapping posters from Firecracker Press offered a riotous contrast to Robert Goetz’s Omega Point (2015), a spare monoprint of apes in quiet contemplation. Well-staged and wide-ranging, Lahs-Gonzales’s ambitious exhibition established the continuing vibrancy of printmaking in St. Louis today.