On Sunday, September 13th the Clay Street Press in OTR held a Pop-Up Exhibit from 12 – 5pm along with Volatile [redux], a Pop-Up Bookshop featuring artist monographs and art reference books and booklets at the Clay Street Press Gallery. It was a great idea to have this pop-up during a dreary there-is-no-art-to-see-time.
Art in the time of Covid is most welcome. And welcomed I was, by Clay Street Press founder and Director Mark Patsfall, masked, and by Volatile’s Peter Huttinger in a full protective suit and face shield. Bravo Peter, I bet you were very hot and in fact, when I asked, he said “Most certainly.” A small performance piece if you will.
Let’s face it, those of us who love art or even enjoy art are hungry to see art now and to engage with the artist/s whose exhibit we are seeing and to engage with others who are at the exhibit. It’s a joyful and invigorating experience. Yet in contrast to the social experience of an exhibit, art-making itself is usually a solitary experience; an artist works alone in a studio or spare room and only more affluent or successful artists have studio assistants. Up to one hundred if you are super-star artist Takashi Murakami. Or Jeff Koons. The exception in the art-making process is in the print shop where a master printer like Mark Patsfall works with the artist who is having her/his print or print series realized.
Printmaking is tough. The master printer is like Merlin. I don’t think someone as self-effacing as Patsfall would say so, but for the rest of us, yes, printmaking is demanding. The ink is thick as tar, it gets everywhere, don’t even think of scratching your nose. Each form of printing requires voodoo recipes and skill sets. Etching, think Rembrandt or Matisse and Picasso. Woodcut, think Japanese prints. Lithography, think Toulouse Lautrec or Salvador Dali and of course Picasso and Matisse. Silkscreen, think early Grateful Dead posters and of course Andy Warhol. And there are myriad special effects and add-ons too technical to mention in an art review. Finally, the master printer makes an edition of prints for the artist from the etching plate or litho stone or silkscreen matrix. Each print should be perfect and identical. Good luck with that. Most artists opt for a small edition of say twelve prints but an edition can run up to one hundred prints or more. Usually the plate, stone or silkscreen begins to wear down so large editions are much less common and are costly. But in the hands of a master printer, this can be realized and the finished prints can be breathtaking.
So this Pop-Up exhibit featured only Cincinnati artists and it was exciting to see such a fine array of our city’s talented artists. Over the years the press has worked with many of the best Cincinnati artists in the creation of fine art editions. This exhibition gives a small overview of the many prints created in lithography, woodcut, etching, linocut and silkscreen from the years 1983 to the present. Artists in this exhibition are Andrew Au, Rich Bitting, Jay Bolotin, Carmel Buckley, Stephanie Cooper, Mark Fox, Peter Huttinger, Mark Harris, Donald Kelly, Frank Herrmann, Kate Kern, Tony Luensman, Tim McMichael, Mark Patsfall, Thom Shaw, Peter Voshevski, Yvonne van Eijden, Jim Williams and Joe Winterhalter.
I wish to share with you two particular prints, bearing in mind the difficulty and complexity of the printmaking process. Of course I’d swoon if gifted a simple Picasso Bullfight etching with spit bite, but I am usually drawn to prints that have a marriage of powerful image and complex printmaking technique.
So Richard Bitting’s Kepler’s Harmony is one such print. It is a large, 40 x 30” image on Arches Cover black paper. If you have ever seen a lush velvety pastel drawing on black paper you can imagine the seductiveness of a black print! And Elvis always looks better painted on black velvet fabric. So here, Bitting has made a lyrical image of parts of the solar system in tandem with a musical score written into the celestial bands. The colors of the celestial configurations vibrate against the rich black paper as the images in the night sky are illuminated against the inky black of night. The print is complex and the printing of it a tour de force accomplishment. It was one of the highlights of the exhibit.
Since I am not familiar with Mark Patsfall’s own artwork, I was pleased that the other print I was drawn to in this exhibit was his multi-media print – a linocut and video, Untitled. The exquisitely detailed linocut image is of Khmer era ruins based on photographs Patsfall took himself. He was in Viet Nam during the Viet Nam war and with several artist friends from Cincinnati, went back to Viet Nam several years ago. So this image has powerful personal meaning to him and he rendered the fantabulous details of Khmer architecture powerfully in the demanding medium of linocut. (Similar to woodcut but using a linoleum matrix instead of a wood block into which he carved his very detailed image.) When I was a visiting professor in Thailand, I traveled to the area in Thailand that was once far western Cambodia and painted Khmer era ruins at Panomrung myself and I assure you, this architecture is otherworldly to our Western eyes. Into this hyper-detailed temple depiction, Patsfall inserted two small videos he made so that we would see the landscape beyond the open windows of the temple space. The flickering light from the two tiny videos was very seductive and in contrast to the muted quality of the carved stone temple rendering.
Additionally, the Pop-U-p bookstore brought in by Volatile [redux] featured perfect-condition monographs and exhibition catalogues on the artists Janine Antoni, Alice Aycock, Joseph Beuys, Christian Boltanski, Jonathan Borofsky, Scott Burton, Sophie Calle, Marcel Duchamp, Bob Flanagan and Sheree Rose, Jackie Ferrara, Tom Friedman, Gilbert & George, David Hockney, Anselm Kiefer, Lydia Lunch, Gordon Matta-Clark, Annette Messager, Georgia O’Keeffe, Jack Pierson, Bern Porter, Mark Rothko, Richard Sera, Nancy Spero, Annie Sprinkle, Jana Sterbak, Pat Stier, Tom of Finland, Timm Ulrichs and others.
There was a selection of reference books on contemporary art and culture as well as art periodicals. Peter Huttinger provided a scholarly compendium of literature and I bought a monograph for my collection. While we had been shut out from libraries during Covid’s early days and while university libraries like the libraries at UC are not open for walk-ins, it was pleasurable to look at beautiful books and monographs.
Here are some stats on the revered Clay Street Press from their press materials. They have done contract printing for some of the world’s most famous artists. “Clay Street Press was founded in 1981 and in 1986 moved to the historic “Over the Rhine” district in Cincinnati. We specialize in the printing of small edition hand-pulled prints in a number of media including lithography, etching, woodcut and silkscreen. The gallery opened in 2004.
Recent publications include editions with the Korean artist Ik-Joong Kang, Mark Fox, Tim McMichael, Peter Voshevski and Mark Harris. In 2000 we printed the portfolio of six lithographs by Chris Johanson “Relationistism” published by RareArt Properties. In 1993 we printed seven of the artist editions in the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennial Portfolio. Co-publishing with Nam June Paik we printed The Fluxfax Portfolio, a collection of 35 lithographs and silkscreens of original faxed artwork by Fluxus artists. Other projects include two recent portfolios of woodcuts by William Allen, “Seven Seas” and “Seven Wonders”.
Acting as publishers, co-publishers or contract printers we have worked with Vito Acconci, William Allen, Richard Bitting, Ronnie Fischer, Richard Hamilton, Shoica Ida, Matt Mullican, Peter Nagy, Nam June Paik, Rm. Palaniappan, Bern Porter, Kay Rosen, Julia Wachtel, Carolee Schneemann, Hannah Wilke and many of the Fluxus artists, among others, in the creation of prints, portfolios or multiples.”
I look forward to other iterations from Clay Street Press and other small venues as they and we all in the art world try to navigate the physical and psychological terrain during the time of Covid.
CLAY STREET PRESS, INC.
1312 Clay Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Telephone, (513) 241-3232
e-mail: [email protected]
Mark Patsfall; Director