Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Extinction of Printmaking? Cannonball Press celebrates Woodcut in Chelsea

by Amy Misurelli Sorensen

American University instructor, Don Kimes, guided several AU graduate students on a tour of Chelsea galleries last weekend in New York. I had a rewarding and disconcerting experience at David Krut Projects, a gallery featuring the work of Cannonball Press.

Cannonball Press is a small printing collaborative, which celebrates the tradition of woodcut printmaking. The group is comprised of both master-printers and artists selling fine art prints at an unusually low cost.

Martin Mazorra, an American University Alum, and Mike Houston are the artists and printers responsible for the exhibition “Treasure of the Black and White Brigand” at Cannonball Press. Martin and Mike collaborated on the project and printed the colossal works with an intimate team of colleagues. They are lucidly stealing from and celebrating a lost tradition, woodcut printmaking, hence the title “Treasure of the Black and White Brigand” and subtitle “Woodcutological Plunder”. While the woodcuts lend themselves to a specific visual stylization and employ propaganda derivative of the work of Tom Huck and Raymond Gloeckler, the presentation of prints shows originality and ingenuity. The exhibition features mural or banner sized woodcut prints on canvas hung from wooden and steel rods evocative of Vatican Tapestries and political posters. The prints on paper collaged onto sculptural forms to enhance the prints’ narratives are playful. The monumentality, quality of line, and presentation is engaging. The political content of the narratives and the concept of appropriating and sampling this method of the woodcut give the show a permissible place in a contemporary gallery.

Bravo! Martin and Mike have resurrected the traditional woodcut in Chelsea. The exhibition evoked in me sensations of pure visual pleasure. However, it has left me on a quest to unearth why this printmaking tradition is becoming extinct.

Why does this show highlight the pillaging of a lost tradition? Is traditional printmaking dead? When I say traditional, I am referring to the processes of intaglio, relief, and lithography. A history of processes that can be traced back to the carved relief, for example, the wooden stamps in Egypt, brick seals in Babylonia, and clay seals in Rome. Multiple prints, picture-making, newspapers, book illustrations then came with the invention of paper. Rembrandt, Goya, and Durer relied on the processes of printmaking. What happened to limited editions? Has the haughty, commercial New York Art World eliminated the print because of its affordability and accessibility? Is there a misinterpretation of “originality” linked to the print? Did it die with Warhol and his money scheming factory? Shall we blame the technological advances of Xerox machines, computers, the media, and digital ink-jet printers, or should we be looking at technology’s advancement as a continuation of the process. Do academic institutions influence the minimal production of printmakers? Why is it that the investigation of historical printing concepts and contemporary printing concepts are only being investigated primarily in the Midwest? Has printmaking, a process as old and as innovative as painting, been lost while painting continues to triumph?

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