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Artlink Print Show

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


The metrics of time seem to be ticking quite rapidly as we are already upon Artlink's "33rd National Print Exhibition," a staple of the Fort Wayne arts scene. This annual exhibition dates back to Artlink's beginnings when it was a part of the then-bohemian arts scene associated with the Fort Wayne Art School on the "west end" of our downtown. This exhibition's rich history of reaching out beyond our region for top talent while simultaneously identifying and nourishing key local talent allows it a central role within our city's arts programming and development. Unlike some past years, the 33rd National Print Exhibition includes many new names that employ even more diverse media.

Even more, this year's curator and award selector Mary Bookwalter (contemporary artist based in Chicago) brings a fresh pair of eyes. As Bookwalter notes in her curatorial statement, "Printmaking is a seductive medium to embrace….It's amazing what you can do with paper, ink and press." This simple, elegant approach to the field of printmaking is evident in her choices both of artists and of awards given. While this viewer could not disagree more with many of the award choices in this exhibition, as they overlook so much of the creativity and forward thought displayed in certain artists' approaches, they stand. New York based R. Bruce Muirhead's "Luna" and Ann Arbor based Christine Reising's "Small Red Thing 2" took home the top awards at $500 each. And while there are nine other cash awards given out, and two purchase awards, little of that highlighted work (besides Antonio Lee) seemed to be the most interesting or challenging within the exhibition.

While there are always too many artists to compliment in most exhibitions, the National Print Exhibition is always the most difficult because of the number of artists and their quality. For instance, Sarah Smelser's monotypes entitled, "Instinction" and "Here I Stand" are as beautiful and somewhat mysterious as their impeccable quality belies their construction. Monotypes are most often an inked plate which is painting/written/etched to create a negative line or field. Smelser finds ways to apply the ink so neatly and with such hand quality that the pieces almost look like detailed abstracted paintings on paper, a feat worth celebrating for any printmaker.

Other notable honorable mentions should also include Julie Cowan's "Deep Thinking" and "Enclosed," both lithographs of very simple, meditative images. "Deep Thinking," a close up portrait, has an almost Elizabeth Peyton feel to it. Raymond DeCicco's "Sycamore Moon" was also a small delight with its incredible contrast and detail in depicting the skeletal canopy of a tree in a twilight moonlight. Paul Demaree and Julie Wall Toles, both based in Fort Wayne, were also included with great pieces each. Toles' "Burning Bright" is a near tessellated Eastern-inspired image of a lotus blossom surrounded by lily pads, as seen from above.
Demaree's "Oxbow Tables", and "The Underground,” both woodcut prints, are further examples of his descriptive visual narrations for his artist books. Almost a mix between print and comic, Demaree's work is certainly worth praise.

And while all of these artists presented very commendable works, there were only three artists whose work was truly breathtaking in this exhibition. This work includes Kristin Carlson Becker, Antonio Lee, and Janet Ballweg. Ballweg, a Bowling Green, Ohio based artist, included "Fait Accompli" a beautiful, Philip Taaffe-like print based on complex color and pattern interaction. This results in a final image which mixes the metal rococo gate designs of the past, high tea, and an arabic calligraphic style to most of the rounded angles. With this amount of fantastic litho work, Ballweg certainly deserved some form of recognition. Next we have Antonio Lee, an artist whose work this viewer can agree with the curator in that this work is top notch. Both "Realization" and Down and Out" display an amazing eye for the subtle graphic novelties which printmaking allows the artist to incorporate. Lee's psychologically sublime images include a very well rendered character, lit harshly, and encountering or facing an abstraction which co-habitats in their space.

And while both of these artists portrayed amazing work, clearly, Kristin Carlson Becker's "I Heart You Square Triangle," a double-sided color screenprint on Japanese paper, easily stole this exhibition. Becker, a Moskow, Idaho based artist, has created with “I Heart You" a masterpiece of graphic design, screen-printing, and an appreciation for small detail work. This blurring of artistic distinctions goes further as the piece can be seen on both sides simultaneously because of the saturation of color in the thin, porous Japanese paper it was printed on. This gives Becker's work a near infinite number of possible interpretations, both visually and conceptually. This work is both print and quilt, message and typography, and the work blossoms into an incredibly beautiful, engaging image.

Thankfully for the exhibition, Becker found Artlink's proposals, even living so far away, and submitted her work. This trust building between Fort Wayne and the rest of the world will always be a bit bumpy.

For more information:
"33rd National Print Exhibition
Artlink, in the Auer Center for the Arts
April 26-May 29, 2013

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