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Inked in mystery: Hot-off-the-press summer exhibition explores hand-rolled ancient art

Printmaking David Webb Archway Gallery INK PrintHouston
David Webb works on a linoleum plate using a microscope. Photo by Joel Luks
Printmaking Anna Mavromatis Archway Gallery INK PrintHouston
At Burning Bones Press, Anna Mavromatis uses a credit card to add patterns directly on the ink prior to passing through a printing press. Photo by Joel Luks
Printmaking Shirl Riccetti Archway Gallery INK PrintHouston
Archway Gallery artist Shirl Riccetti etches a block of pine. Photo by Joel Luks
Printmaking Shirl Riccetti Archway Gallery INK PrintHouston
After applying pressure using a printing baren and wooden spoon, Archway Gallery artist Shirl Riccetti carefully removes her print on Japanese paper. Photo by Joel Luks

It has become fashionable to use a variant of the verse, "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose," arguably Gertrude Steins' most quotable sentence, to imply that things are just as they are — or as they appear to be.

In that spirit, "A painting is a painting is a painting" has been used by art curators to muse on the result of layering that idea with the American writer's own premise that the names of things carry visual and emotional associations — whether universal or in their particular zeitgeist.

 "Printmaking is all very personal, it's all very hand done. Instead of being mass produced, it's done by a single person for a single reason."

As it pertains to this CultureMap artsy video adventure, I couldn't help but begin with my familiarity of painting to think of such implications as interviews with local printmakers demystified the public's confusion over printmaking genres.

It's one of the goals of PrintHouston 2014, a summer-long initiative helmed by PrintMatters that promotes traditional and nontraditional printmaking, encourages print collecting and celebrates those who are actively engaged in the field. With exhibitions, lectures, workshops and special events, PrintHouston rolls into the city to educate consumers and to celebrate the ancient practice.

As part of PrintHouston, on Saturday Archway Gallery opens Ink&Image, an exhibition that displays works by guests artists Andis Applewhite, Cathie Kayser, Anna Mavromatis, Elvia Perrin, Bede Van Dyke and David J. Webb, alongside Archway member artist Mary Lee Gray.

The mystery of printmaking

When printmaker and photographer David Webb, who dubs his workshop Big Ant Studios, retired in 1995 from a career in genetics, he was drawn to art as a medium to explore his fascination with biology and ecology. With a scientific approach, his intaglio etchings and collagraphs of living species and his botanical monoprints reveal a painstakingly devotion to capture even the most minute details, a process that also includes placing linoleum plates under a microscope and using tiny cutting tools.

 "I think it's more a prejudice in terms of the media and the critics, which tend to think that if it's a painting it must be really wonderful, but if it's a print it must be a second-class kind of art." 

"I think there's a bit of a prejudice towards big painting," Webb says. "I think it's more a prejudice in terms of the media and the critics, which tend to think that if it's a painting it must be really wonderful, but if it's a print it must be a second-class kind of art."

Webb says that it's difficult for the general public to grasp that there can be multiple originals in art. A painting as a one-of-a-kind piece is a concept that's readily understood. He attributes part of the confusion to the increasing popularity of giclée prints, a fancy name — because everything sounds more expensive in French — that elevates the cachet of a fine art reproduction made on inkjet printers. Some are sold numbered, as limited editions and as archival images.

"Printmaking is all very personal, it's all very hand done," Webb explains. "Instead of being mass produced, it's done by a single person for a single reason. A hand-pulled print is done by hand at one time by an artist."

Giclée isn't printmaking in the traditional sense. A giclée might as well be a photocopy, one that doesn't require human touch for its creation. To differentiate between a reproduction and a print, Webb recommends collectors turn over the work to look for an embossment that indicates that an action was performed onto the paper.

Mixed media designs

Burning Bones Press artist Anna Mavromatis, who was born in Greece and educated in Italy and Great Britain, melds her studies in architecture and fashion in her monotype prints and mixed media designs, some of which are sewn into stunning books with poetic messages.

Mavromatis sees some parallels to painting in her practice. With a freestyle manner, she overlaps inks directly onto the plate and creates patterns onto the colors with different objects, including credit cards, before the plate is pulled through a press.

 "Your inner being gets much more freely expressed than by being able to see exactly what you're doing."

"For me, this medium is close to painting in that I don't produce edition pieces," she says." Each is one of a kind. Once it's pulled, it's done. There's no possibility of having multiples."

The difference, she says, is that unlike working directly onto a canvas in which the oeuvre unfolds visually, the process of printmaking is indirect. She thinks of the activity as a matrix in which the eye doesn't necessarily guide the creative process.

"Your chi, your inner being gets much more freely expressed than by being able to see exactly what you're doing," she adds. "The colors, the movement of the inks, what I call my alphabet, which are my graphic gestural markings, change everyday."

With so many definitions of the word print, is it more accurate to say, "A print isn't a print isn't a print isn't a print"?

A more fitting question, perhaps, becomes: What amount of human interaction must there be for an object to have any aesthetic value?

___

Archway Gallery opens the exhibition Ink&Image with a reception on Saturday, 5-8 p.m. The exhibition will be on view through July 10.

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