Noticing how individual works play off each other can give a new slant to looking at an exhibition, allowing you to think like a curator. Contemporary Printmaking at Manifest Gallery offers such a rewarding opportunity.
The gallery’s call for submissions brought in nearly 400 works by 160 artists for this juried show. Curator Jason Franz made the final cut to 22 works by 13 artists from seven states and the United Kingdom.
Toledo artist Craig Fisher’s “Rights of Spring,” in which the burgeoning life force is fierce, is grouped with Atlanta-based artist Dale Clifford’s “Roving Bandit” and “Shame of the Son,” linocut/woodcuts showing a bird you might not want on your windowsill. The composition of each of Clifford’s works echoes the other; one is carried out almost wholly in shades of brown while the other consists of grays and a muted yellow. Like all good prints, the process strengthens the result. “Rights of Spring” uses delicacy to strong ends with aquatint over inkjet chine-colle, which allows the central section to take on its own background color. Clifford’s two woodcuts emanate strength — no nonsense there. And there’s no nonsense in any of these three works about nature being gentle.
Meanwhile, on the gallery’s facing wall are some thoughts on being human. Rick Finn of Cincinnati contemplates a man (himself?) in what might be profile/full-face mug shots, except that in one he is bald and in the other has enough hair for an Elvis pompadour.
“No Chance for a Sweet, Sweet Life” is the title for this pair. It’s a reduction woodcut against an orangeish background. The bald fellow turns up again in Finn’s “18,322 Days Ago.” The enigmatic title is yours to puzzle out. My calculator tells me that number of days equals something over 50 years.
Grouped with Finn’s works are Massachusetts resident Randy Garber’s “The Wonder of It All” and Spokane, Wash., artist Mary Farrell’s “Tarragon.” The former shows a humanoid sort of figure with shadowy suggestions of brain and perhaps a spinal column in the background. An overlay of random shapes becomes a tumble of letters. All this is executed in the elegance of etching. The Farrell work, dry point, is a profile of an old man’s head, the spiky tendrils above repeated in his spiky hair.
Farrell keeps returning to the intricacies of natural growth. In her other two works here, “Limbs Akimbo” and “Split Open,” she imposes artistic order on terrible tangles. The precision of etching and dry point help her achieve her ends, but she also incorporates woodcut, linocut and mezzotint when she needs them.
The multitude of means for printmaking allow for effects not possible from any other discipline. Manifest’s stated aim with this show is “to explore the range of methods and results currently being achieved within the bounds of such processes.” Traditional methods are being explored and sometimes pushed to new limits, with a deceptive air of ease. These are not easy processes. Skill in execution can make them look so.
Wild Kingdom, a one-man show of Jason Urban’s work, fills Manifest’s second room. He teaches drawing and printmaking at the University of Texas. These pieces push boundaries in a manner not seen in Contemporary Prints. In “Rattlesnake Rec Room” wood panels shaped like six-sided tiles are imprinted with his recurrent motif, a snake. The panels spill down the wall and off onto the floor in an almost snake-like way. Urban switches from etching to silkscreen at will and sometimes touches up his etchings with gouache.
The two exhibitions play off each other in an illuminating manner. Individual works in Contemporary Printmaking frequently do the same.
CONTEMPORARY PRINTMAKING is on view through Jan. 9 at Manifest Gallery (2727 Woodburn Ave. Walnut Hills)