Clay Street and Beyond
Mark Patsfall is the go-to guy if you’re an artist and you have a difficult print job at hand. Patsfall also makes art, as can be seen right now in the Weston Art Gallery’s The House In My Head. His own quirky, idea-filled show, The Nature of Time, recently appeared at Aisle Gallery in West End.
The Cincinnati Art Museum automatically turned to Patsfall’s Clay Street Press in Over-the-Rhine to produce its recent Honoring Jim Dine Portfolio, in which eight well known area artists pay tribute to a Cincinnati-born artist a generation ahead of them. “Mark Patsfall was selected for the portfolio because he has the knowledge to help even first time printmakers realize their vision,” says Kristin Spangenberg, curator of the Museum’s print department.
Carl Solway of Carl Solway Gallery, who has worked closely with Patsfall for years, is in full agreement. “Artists love working with him. He opens up new ideas for them,” Solway says. Both he and Spangenberg are quick to bring up Patsfall’s own work. “He’s a remarkable artist in his own right, exceptionally gifted,” says Solway, and Spangenberg speaks of “his expertise as a printer and his experience as a practicing artist contributing greatly to the art community in Cincinnati.”
The artist/printer has pale hair, usually tousled, dark eyes, dark-rimmed glasses, and a quiet manner that hides what Solway calls “a huge body of general information and knowledge on how to do things.” Born in Milwaukee in 1949, he came to Cincinnati as a young child because his father, an engineer/metallurgist, took a job at the General Electric jet engine plant in Evendale.
Patsfall’s contributions to the Weston’s House in My Head exhibition reflect, according to an artist’s statement he approved but did not actually write, “growing up in the homogenous environment of the suburbs and my subsequent role as a homeowner.” The homeowner now lives in a 1909 arts and crafts style house in Madisonville with his wife, Sarah Young, and Noah, their 10-year-old son. Two daughters, from his first marriage, are grown. One, Anna Livia, named with a nod to James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, is a ballet dancer living in Lexington with her ballet dancer Cuban husband. The other, Alexandra Michelle (no literary reference), recently completed a Masters degree in Public Administration from Northern Kentucky University and lives in Cincinnati, where she is an adoptions agent for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services.
The Weston show provides key insights to Patsfall’s art. Diverse, creatively conceived, perfectly finished and shot through with humor, his contributions include prints, a three-dimensional object enlivened with video and computer animation, and an elaborate wall installation incorporating sound. Patsfall puts his hand on whatever helps to make his points, and gives the viewer a platform to interpret on his own. When I reviewed the show, for another publication, I wrote about his handsome print Modernist House (for Jackson) without mentioning Jackson Pollack because I’d gotten caught in on another train of thought. This elicited a gentle, regretful e-mail from the artist, noting that I’d overlooked the paint drips, “a reference to Jackson Pollack, and painting of the period. I really thought that would be so obvious, but it seems very few get it and that period of art has slipped from our collective consciousness.” You give us too much to think about, Mark. Patsfall’s work was seen last year in his own gallery at Clay Street Press, in a group show from a return trip to Vietnam made with two other photographers. The subtext of the war he had fought in remains a subtext; but appreciation of the country in which it took place is touched and even heightened by that that experience. A transfixed blogger who calls himself Crush the Day, Vietnamese but born here, said of Patsfall’s central piece “It is a compilation of items that he collected throughout the years. I cannot fully explain it but it was like a life-size shadow box, that I literally stuck my head into and looked back at his past.”
The Vietnam service interrupted Patsfall’s post-high school education, which had begun at Nathaniel Hawthorne College in New Hampshire, continued at Massachusetts College of Art in Boston and eventually resulted first in a Bachelor’s degree (1977) and then a Master’s degree (1979) in Fine Arts, both from the University of Cincinnati. He gave serious attention to photography and graphic design along the way, becoming increasingly involved in printmaking. From 1979 to 1981 he was master printer for Prasada Press in Cincinnati, a respected enterprise with international clients. Mark Patsfall Graphics, later to become Clay Street Press, was founded in his garage in 1981. Not long after he joined forces “with Howard Bell, who owned a color separation company is St. Bernard, in the back of which I had my first shop outside my garage.”
Patsfall’s long association with the video artist Nam June Paik began in 1984 and continued through the artist’s working life to 2000. As chief designer and technical assistant for Paik Patsfall says he “designed and fabricated or supervised fabrication of hundreds of sculptures, designed his exhibitions and oversaw their installations, designed and supervised construction and installation of many of the public sculptures.” Solway, who handled Paik’s work through his gallery, says Patsfall’s talents so often are put to work helping other people realize their art that “he is not recognized enough for his own work.”
The Honoring Jim Dine Portfolio is a case in point. CAM Director Aaron Betsky conceived the idea and called together Solway, Spangenberg and Patsfall to carry it out. Patsfall calls it the most challenging project he’s had so far. “We had to make eight editions with eight different artists in three months.” Joseph Winterhalter’s print was probably the most difficult, he says, because Winterhalter “had not made prints before, and [the piece] combined lithography and woodcuts.”
Patsfall has been at 1312 Clay Street since 1986. He opened the white-painted front first floor rooms as a gallery in 2004. Currently he’s running a “25% off print sale, 50% off selected prints” in the space but on August 27 an exhibition of prints, drawings and collages by Michael Scheurer opens there. No shows are scheduled after next January, though. “Art is a luxury item,” Patsfall says. “When the economy tanked so did construction, and so did art sales.”
Not for the first time. Patsfall has been around long enough to see the cycle go around, come around, go around again. Other things evolve, as well. In the time Patsfall has been on Clay Street he’s seen Over-the-Rhine change character more than once. “The riots [in 2001] were bad. At some point the bars started to close. Now new people are moving in to live.”
Meanwhile, an artist with a printing problem knows where to go, and one of Cincinnati’s most technically assured and innovative makers of art has his own two Tarach-Garfield 32″x 44″ intaglio presses, a generous flat bed offset proof press, silk screen production facilities and an upstairs sculpture studio to work in.
– Jane Durrell
The Clay Street Press, 1312 Clay Street, Cincinnati, OH 45202. Telephone, (513) 241-3232, e-mail:[email protected]
Aisle Gallery, 424 Findlay St. Third Floor, Cincinnati OH 45214. 513-241-3403