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Julie Wall Toles: "Print it, and they will come…"

By Dan Swartz

Fort Wayne Reader


Printmaking enjoys a very rich and varied history, being one of the first intersections between the arts and almost every other aspect of human culture. Since the advent of the printing press, the communication of ideas became nearly instantaneous, artists and designers suddenly became indispensable in the commerce of translating these ideas, and visual culture began its rise to dominance.

Julie Wall Toles has brought this history and culture of printmaking to the Fort Wayne art scene and given us great examples of how versatile of a practice it truly is. After receiving her Bachelors of Art degree from Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, Toles searched for a way to make prints without having to go further to pursue an MFA for use of the studio, and realized that her love of print and community could come together perfectly through the creation of Hedgehog Press.

Hedgehog Press is an independent fine art print shop that educates the public on the art of printmaking through classes, events, and creating custom printed items. By filling the void of a local analog print shop, Toles and Hedgehog Press have created a new interest in printmaking in both the local arts community, as well as the community as a whole. By working with artists like Erik Howard to produce printed editions of their own fine art, Toles is allowing new opportunities for artists to expand their practice and revenue sources.

While few artists locally work with fine art editions, preferring rather to opt for digital or giclee prints, it is always refreshing to see Toles' work and her influence on others as they begin to explore the use of prints. Especially as the art scene slowly becomes a market, fine prints will always command and hold higher values. In this way, Toles is providing a very needed resource in the growth of our entire arts community as prints are eventually built into almost any represented artist's studio practice at one point or another.

While Toles' work encompasses multiple threads of work, and it has changed over the past 5-6 years after graduation, it all contains a strong compositional identity. Rarely doesn't a work surprise the viewer as not being Toles' work once they inspect the crisp line-work, solid mass of the image, and immaculate use of color. While Toles' work continues to grow, it is also very refreshing to see that her approach to her art is malleable, and she is even open to working closely with other artists in collaborations and installations like her current project "Tessellate."

In "Tessellate,” Adam James and Toles collaborated to explore geometry in their respective mediums, being architecture and fine prints. This most recent project of Toles' work includes 11 print pieces surrounding a single, 14 foot tall sculpture hanging from the ceiling, composed of tessellated cardboard triangles, producing an undulating and radiating presence, directing the viewers eyes to the prints, which also explore tessellation and geometric space. This obsession with shape and repetitious patterns references many moments and movements throughout art history, however there is something truly unique about James and Toles' collaborative space created, and the context in which it gives the work very totemic and hieroglyphic feeling. Like some lost system of symbols which now only hints at the meaning of the interior structure, the prints become as mysterious as they are beautiful and gain more depth that some of the individual images of animals would hold.

Toles' collages of printed fish, birds, moths, bumble bees, and squirrels are beautifully rendered and are then laid out to create specific geometric structures. Being linocuts and relief prints, the images are very detailed, with vibrant colors and delicate patterns. Toles also includes small embellishments or stitched colored thread into the images also. In pieces like "Back to Back" and "infinite Possibilities," Toles returns to the moth, an image which she has used in much of her work. The moths in "Infinite Possibilities" are very graphic being primary black, white, and red, surrounding a stitched double triangle, while those in "Back to Back" invert the printed moths highlighting the variations in interior and exteriors shapers being formed with similar "unit images", being the moths themselves. The triangle is further explored in "Three Sides," a complex combination of triangles of bumblebees, which take on a somewhat pyramidal feeling as well.

Through this meditation and experimentation on the natural world and its fluidity, the concrete reality of mathematics, and the way that geometry both expresses and bridges the two together, Toles' work becomes transcendental. This idea of a higher design, being both functional in a sense through the production of discrete shapes and geometric references, while also acting as symbolic references to the images themselves being composed of animals, Toles' work seems to be at a turning point. The works in "Tessellate" stray away from the narrative structures inherent in past work, and begins to bring up universal formal concerns. In this way, the work almost becomes minimal. Like many of the early minimalists looking for base units from which to build, it would seem as though Toles is using her own past successes, and is now building off of them.

While Julie Wall Toles continues to grow, and her artistic and business practices become more sophisticated, she will leave indelible marks on Fort Wayne's art scene. As more artists realize the importance of the use of fine art prints instead of less valuable facsimiles, Hedgehog Press should also become much more prolific in the editions it prints.

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©2018 Fort Wayne Reader. All rights Reserved.