Sure, some printmakers are traditional practitioners of a craft: They cling to techniques like rote prayers which, properly recited, will deliver them to the Promised Land, and Bless Them for that.
But something about printmaking drives another set toward experimentation. It’s like the pursuit of alchemy, trying different ingredients and ways of mixing them, hunting some new recipe for gold.
I don’t know if any studio is experimenting with materials, tools, and techniques to the degree that Zygote Press is.
Zygote has steadily worked to reduce toxicity in the notoriously chemical-intense printmaking environment. Last year, the organization went through a green and non-toxic overhaul, converting all solvents and grounds to non-toxic alternatives. And last summer, the organization began to send staffers and members to the Zea Mays “green printmaking” workshop in Massachusetts, which teaches ways of etching plates and cleaning using a range of non-toxic products–often household products, like lemon juice. As Rebecca Wilhelm found through diligent experimentation, the pursuit leads to a whole bunch of fascinating, subtle effects using grounds and solvents completely safe for the hands and lungs.
But the experimentation there has not been limited by the pursuit of non-toxicity. In recent months, Zygote staffers got a guided introduction to the tools available at the CWRU Think[box], and used the equipment there–especially a laser cutter and a 3-D printer–to see how they could be used in printmaking technique.
What they found was on display in File Prep, which was on view at Ink House through Friday’s Walk All Over Waterloo.
The unmistakable spirit driving this show is a sense of wonder about what might happen if you tried … just about anything. It’s a show to make McGyver proud.
Lisa Schonberg, for example, used a plotter to cut a pattern–with the look of a topographical map–into a sheet of Plexiglass. Then she printed it three ways–first, simply transferring the dust from the cutting blade onto a piece of paper. She found that would require a fixative to keep the pattern in place. Another image was printed in relief–ink on the high spots. Another was printed with the intaglio technique–ink rubbed into the cut, with the surface of the plate wiped clean, so that the link left behind in the cut lines transferred.
Meanwhile Liz Maugans used the laser cutter to burn a pattern into a piece of wood. I’ve seen this technique used to reproduce photos–the laser cutter burning them into a piece of plywood, to create sepia-toned images in the brown-charred surface. What I hadn’t seen before is the image transferred–and not with ink, but by simply running the freshly burned plate (with a sheet of paper) through the press. The pressure transferred the stain of the burned image onto the piece of paper. The charred brown is not a powder laying on the surface, but actually stains the paper. And the nature of the pattern here left an emboss of white dots, raised up and looking (likely because of that nice toasted brown) like puffy marshmallows.
The image itself in this case is a print-based treatment of a performance-and-social media idea Maugans explored on the Fourth of July, during Lakewood’s famously folksy parade: She and Amy Morgenstern walked the parade carrying a blank banner, inviting people to impose their own message about whatever they support or protest.
Usually looking at the way tools perform and materials behave is a little too far inside the artistic game to engage general audiences. But the results in this show … with just a little information . . . would have any interested viewer wondering not only about the content of the images, but how they got there.