Review: "Six Artists Etching" at shoestring press surveys the multiple styles of contemporary printmaking
By Danielle Kalamaras
Artful printmaking has a lucrative history. From the vibrant fin-de-siècle Moulin Rouge posters created by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec to the Pop silkscreens of Andy Warhol, contemporary printmaking is a chameleon medium expressed through multiple techniques into a plentitude of forms. Etching is a printing process when artists use a strong acid to cut into the unprotected parts of a metal surface to create an intaglio (relief) design.
A new exhibition devoted to the art of etching is now on view at Shoestring Press in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The exhibition titled Six Artists Etching features the prints of six Shoestring Press members including Madeleine Boucher, Sharon Lindenfeld, Emily Noelle Lambert, Heidi Neilson, Michael Rahn, and Jewel Shaw. Subjects differ in their artistic characteristics as styles range from painterly abstractions to sketched caricatures. As the etchings on view were more reminiscent to mediums like drawing or painting rather than printmaking of the past, seeing this vast multitude in the aesthetics speaks to the transformation of etching through its lengthy history.
Etching was a form of technology before the machine. This skill in philosophy is defined as techne, which roughly translates as “craftmenship.” In Ancient Greece techne was used to define the mechanic arts like medicine and music rather than the liberal arts of epistemology and science. Printmaking was a learned skill of artisans and tradesmen and was used for decorative purposes rather than purely aesthetic reasons. During the Medieval age, goldsmiths would incise elaborate designs and patriotic insignias into the guns, armor, and protective plates to heighten the prestige of the feudal principality and its country.
The process of incising into metal evolved into an aesthetic medium in the 17th century Northern Renaissance with masters including Rembrandt and Albrecht Durer creating etches that matched the verisimilitude of painting. Into the 20th century printmaking was used as an early form of mass media before the advent of computer technology. In this day and age, etching may be anachronistic in its technological efficiency, but aesthetically it renders a romantic nostalgia to a day and age of artisanal craft.
So why etch today? This medium is in its process a lengthy methodology that not only takes special materials and equipment but also skilled dedication and time. Sharon Lindenfeld’s Untitled from her Reverie Series is on a much larger scale than a typical print. At 4 x 5 feet, Lindenfeld had to use two plates to create each abstract print. The inking process took five hours with the additional assistance of three people. Each etching in the series was created from the same two plates but each was inked in different combinations. Lindenfeld explained, “They are each individual but relate to each other… I etched and inked them up in experimental ways, so each time I printed them, the resulting print surprised me.”
Lindenfeld’s etchings perceptually resemble the Color-Field abstractions of Kenneth Noland or Morris Louis. Both Noland and Louis came from the New York School of painting that heralded the expressive energies of the unconscious, leaving the materials to truly dictate their placement on the canvas. With Lindenfeld’s prints, she takes this operation of change one step further by allowing authorship to come from both the designs from her etched plates as well as the process itself—the actual commingling of the metal plate with the paper or canvas.
On the other side of the spectrum, Jewel Shaw’s investigations of the dog series is intimate in its size and sketch-like in its style. Her use of overarching negative space invites viewers to dissect the caricatures in each print. As her prints resemble drawings, one must question the reason behind the additional thought process of the artist to ultimately choose printmaking as her vehicle for artistic expression. For some printmakers it is about the multiple—a subjective form of mass production that connects the maker to the object. For others it seems to be about the process itself. Taking the additional time and energy to physically etch into a surface, and to then apply ink to create a print becomes an intimate dance between the artist and the object. Six Artists Etching exhibits this broad field of printmaking today and shows regardless of the contemporary art climate of cultural appropriation and mechanical processes, art can coincide with techne over technology to create an individual and personal expression.
About Shoestring Press
Shoestring Press is a membership-based print shop and arts space in Crown Heights. Their primary mission is to provide an affordable work space for creating art. The storefront in Crown Heights serves its members with a workspace and use of all printing equipment for etching/intaglio, silkscreen, lithography, and woodcut/linocut relief printing. Most supplies including ink and silkscreens are also supplied with a membership. If you are interested in learning more about a Shoestring Press membership visit the website: http://www.shoestringpressny.com/membership/
In addition to being a membership-based studio, the storefront also serves as a gallery, classroom, and event space dedicated to community outreach. Classes and workshops in screenprinting, relief printing, etching and lithography to name a few are open for all levels and are not limited to members. If you are interested in dusting off your artistic skills in printmaking or sketching, sign up for a workshop here: http://www.shoestringpressny.com/workshops/
Six Artists Etching is on view through May 31, 2015
Curated by David Turchin
663 Classon Ave.