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National Print Exhibition: 31 years is a charm

Artlink’s annual National Print show is one of its finest

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-05-09


It is rare to find such a complete exhibition as humble and as well-represented as Artlink's Annual National Print Exhibition. After covering this exhibition for the past three years, and witnessing the exhibition for more than seven, this writer can confidently say that this year's exhibition is one of the most satisfying from a viewing experience, and includes some of the most challenging and beautiful prints seen in Northeast Indiana for quite some time. With 31 years under its belt, Artlink's Annual National Print Exhibition has a strong history of highlighting Fort Wayne's top print-based talents as well as bringing in some of the leading national contemporary artists.

Certainly part of the reason for this exhibition's excellence goes toward the curator, Randy Bolton, head of the Print Media Department and Artist in Residence at Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Bolton's guidance of the exhibition allowed certain modest artistic talents to rise, and his critical eye cut through the chaff to bring only the strongest pieces to the forefront. In addition to choosing the general content of the exhibition, Bolton also chose the fifteen cash award winners, valuing subversive humor, social criticism, and a love for the deadpan directness of an unassuming image.

Winning the top prize of three hundred dollars, Ella Weber, of La Vista, Nebraska presented two incredibly well composed and conceptually complete images. Entitled "Scaredy Cat" and "Copy Cat", Weber's work can be described as double portraits including a full body image of a person, and a hollow, opened Pez Dispenser with an oversized comic head attached which is taller than the human character. Both of these images include cartoon cat Pez Dispensers, one being Hello Kitty, and the other being an unidentified black cat, which were clearing the inspirations for the titles. Both of Weber's images include limited, searing use of color, and include subtle body language in the human subjects. While Weber is making very heavy headed gestures through the comparisons between the titles to the images, with the human characters evoking the expressed titles, she also includes odd inferences such as the existential pure white planes which her double portraits inhabit, and the psychological and sociological implications of comparing an expressive human with a larger than life, empty, crude, mechanical toy.

The next level of winning artists, who were each awarded two hundred dollars, include Christopher M. Register, Josh Winkler, the long time exhibiting artist Yuji Hiratsuka, and Matthew Egan. While these artists are working in rather diverse styles and conceptual models, they are all deserving of great praise. Christopher M. Register's relief engraving and letterpress ""Scoundrels" series" images include the most delicate and skilled relief carving skills seen in this exhibition for multiple years. Through precise gauging, Register creates the chiaroscuro necessary to create beautifully rendered likenesses of historical "scoundrels" including B. L. (Bernie) Madoff, and others. Josh Winkler on the other hand leaves the identity of his antagonists to the wayside and condemns humanity in general for its quest to develop the world in our own image at the expense of nature itself. Winkler's large scale color wood cuts include images of the human tools (cars, trucks, helicopters, etc) which are responsible for development, and the raped lands which have just come under scope of Humanity's control.

Yuji Hiratsuka and Matthew Egan, however, have complimentary styles and conceptual models including bombastic compositions, flaunting color, and a surreal sense of construction with both their characters and their landscapes. Yuji Hiratsuka's incredible intaglio and chine colle pieces, "Garden Muse L" and "Garden Muse R" have the feeling of some animated dream, with flattened figures exploring full landscapes inhabited by interesting objects, animals, and other figures giving the images vague narratives. Matthew Egan's hyper-surrealistic environments are both beautiful and terrifying. In pieces like "Hey George, The Ocean Called", Egan creates his characters out of intricate details, wearing absurd accouterments, and including constructions from other objects to take the place of things like hair.

The next level of awards, at the one hundred and fifty dollar level, went to Leslie Grossman and Art Werger. Grossman's organic abstractions, "A Convergence of Three Spirits (1) and (2)" both evoke the early work of painter/printmakers like Terry Winters, and contain faint but at the same time precise line work created honeycomb egg shaped structures. Werger, clearly an incredibly talented artist gives the audience the pleasure of viewing "American Dream" and "McMansions", both mezzotints of the highest caliber. A mezzotint is a printmaking method in the intaglio family which allows for a vast array of tonality in the final printed image through the use of a "rocker" a specialized tool which roughens the plate through the creation of thousands of tiny "pits" which then collect the ink. Because of the size and detail in Werger's pieces, his images are the product of hundreds if not thousands of hours of work. It is a joy to see these exquisite pieces.

Last but not least, the final group of artists were awarded one hundred dollars, including two local artists, Beckie Stockert and Jake Saunders, as well as Brian Johnson, Jessica Machauk, Johanna Winters, Zach Stensen, Juergen Strunck, and Meredith Setser. Stockert's "Hannibal Lector Porn Theater", and Saunders's "Murder Ballad 9: Phil Spector Hits: The Wall of Lead" are both very grim in content yet because of their flattened stylized representations, and "matter of fact" transparency, also take on a strong humor. Other included artists in Artlink's 31st Annual National Print Exhibition are Art Cislo and David Seculoff, two of Fort Wayne's strong old guard artists who continue to make incredibly powerful pieces which resonate with the contemporary dialogue of the art world. Through the inclusion of all of these local artists and the selected artists from throughout the nation, Artlink continues to expand the horizon of our community's arts scene through these meaningful exhibitions.

31st Annual National Print Exhibition
April 15th-May 25, 2011
For more information: www.artlinkfw.com

ALSO: For those interested in learning more about printmaking, check out the "Mixed Media Relief Print Workshop" by Art Cislo, June 27-July 1, 2011. For more information, www.artlinkfw.com or call 424-7195.

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