Printmaking encompasses a myriad of techniques. The processes can be complicated. The equipment is specialized. And often expensive. Some artists have the wherewithal to set up their own studios, but for most artists, it’s not possible. For them Cincinnati is fortunate to have the Tiger Lily Press, which celebrated its 40thanniversary in 2019. It exists because of the dedication and persistence of their artists. Tiger Lily offers studio space for rent and teaches etching, screen printing, polyester litho, collagraphs, relief, monoprints, and letterpress.
When I walk into an exhibition, I like to take a quick tour. In “Pressing On,” I noticed that two artists had focused on moths and another on a butterfly. They had very different aesthetic sensibilities, and each had chosen a different technique. It seemed as good a place as any to start.
Jonpaul Smith presents an Archerontia Atropos moth; its colloquial name, African death’s-head hawkmoth, comes from the stylized skull on its thorax. Smith’s moth looks pinned to a board, like a specimen. But instead of a neutral backdrop, Smith displays the Archerontia Atropos against a stark and energetic black-and-white background made up of hard-edged blocks of zigzags and stripes; the circle in the center is composed of triangles, pyramids, and arrowhead shapes that create the optical illusion of a sphere. The whole is bordered by a line of saw teeth, pyramids, or maybe teepees. Against all that activity, the Archerontia Atropos commands our attention. I have no doubt the moth could fly away, pulling out the pins to return to the air.
Kathleen Piercefield has rendered Waved Sphinx in soft tones of black and gray, not far from its actual coloration of pale gray and yellowish- and brownish-grays. Mounted on a monochromatic board, is the inscrutable Sphinx at rest, content to be an object of study or waiting to glide away?
Moths and butterflies settle in nature. That is where Blanche Pringle Smith (no relation to Jonpaul Smith) places her winged creature, resting on a contour drawing of a branch. Washes of delicate pinks, lighter in the background, cover the entire picture, conveying the fragility of the creature. Jonpaul Smith and Piercefield took their insects out of their natural habitat and subjected them to the human will. Smith’s butterfly is a free spirit.
Mel Parada’s black-and-white silkscreen seems simple: hard edges; two colors, actually non-colors; an austere font; and the three words that Mies van der Rohe used to sum up his aesthetic–“less is more.” Got it. Move on. Wait a minute. Parada has flipped van der Rohe’s familiar words so it’s More is Less. Parada spells them out in a sans serif typeface. “LESS” is all caps, black, and larger than the upper and lower case “More is.” Its letters are not printed but are dropped out. Has “LESS” slipped behind “More is”? Or has “More is” boldly claimed the foreground? There’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Andrea Knarr’s impressionistic Eventide IV and Eventide V are monotypes. In this process, the artist works directly on a smooth and nonabsorbent surface, originally a copper etching plate but today it can be anything from that to acrylic. That image is transferred to paper, by running it through a printing press or burnishing it. The procedure makes one print, although others, which are lighter, are possible by repeating the process.
Both of Knarr’s painterly Eventides depict a deserted seashore with tall grasses hiding the sandy or rocky beach beyond. It’s a hazy dusk, not a glorious sunset. The scene is mysterious, moody, and melancholy.
Rick Finn’s Hand Wiping shows the artist working on a monotype, moving ink around a reflective surface with the edge of his palm.
Although we tend to think that prints are strictly two-dimensional, artists see no reason to keep them flat. The artist’s book is one way to move into the next dimension. But more striking are the vessels by Jan Thomas.
Jan Thomas gathers up petal shapes cut from a flat print and sews them together to make a vessel.
Stephanie Berrie uses essentially the same process to assemble her printed-felt sculptures. There’s a 10-minute video on the Caza Sikes website (cazasikes.com) that shows how she works; it’s titled Creating Alien Plants: From Screenprinting to Sewing to Sprouting and Growing.
Berrie’s pastel-colored The Mothership is the largest of all the pieces in the show–27” high x 26” wide. The title reminded me of that Star Trek’s phrase: “to go boldly where no man has gone before.”
But if you put that title aside, the sculpture looks like something from Little Shop of Horrors without the menace. The central form is onion-shaped, and she’s “peeled back” some of the “petals” like artichoke leaves. Sprouting out of it is a bud, or maybe a fanciful hat or crown. Whatever you liken it to, it’s a sheer delight.
The show featured more than 70 etchings, screen prints, woodblocks, linocuts, collagraphs, lithographs, monoprints, letterpress prints, and three-dimensional works by 30+ artists. With an exhibition with so many artists and pieces, you’d think there’d be a dud or two. I couldn’t spot one.
–Karen S. Chambers
“Pressing On: Prints by Members of the Tiger Lily Press,” through February 28, 2021. Caza Sikes, 3078 Madison Road (Oakley), Cincinnati, OH 45209, 513-818-9527, cazasikes.com, [email protected]; Tues.-Fri. 11 am-5 pm, Sat. 11 am-3 pm. Mon. by appointment