Rubber City Prints Brings the World to Their Living Room
One of the area’s best Print Shows in years is tucked away in plain sight at Rubber City Prints’ new home on Main Street in Akron. The 1920s house with solid door and window frames, winding floor plans, and endless possibilities holds a budding print shop, complete with funky old letter presses, a hydraulic press that used to be housed at the University of Akron, and a home brew screen exposure light ingeniously jerry-rigged with slip-knotted ropes on top of a series of flat files. Everywhere there is evidence of works in progress, the raw stuff of creation placing the finished work on the walls into the surprising context of a studio instead of a gallery, as though the work has just moments ago sprung into existence in the artists’ natural habitat.
But this work was not born in Akron. Divergent INK showcases 43 black and white prints from artists as far flung as Brazil, Greece, and Australia. A variety of exquisite mezzotints define the show, atmospheric and velvety, pulling you in with a foreboding wink, but nearly every printmaking process is represented. The work is strong enough to warrant a class field trip, and the setting inviting enough to inspire viewers to crack open a beer and stay a while.
Grecian artist Miltiadis Petalas’s Upright into the Light and Hidden Desires, float above the mantle, suspended naked with magnets, lit by the warm glow of a house lamp. The two portraits took Best in Show and thus received the honored spot above the fireplace, monoprints with drypoint and stenciled elements layered to create engaging images that beg a second, third, and fourth glance. An Elizabethan woman cradles a fish, her eye a sparrow, while her Shakespearean partner emerges behind a skull next to her. They’re a captivating pair, presiding over a living room filled with artists talking shop, laughing, discussing process and methods intently, and abruptly following each other in and out of the room on the way to equipment, other works, and whatever else their buzzing conversations reminds them of.
Directly across from the fireplace are Linda Whitney’s three incredible, large mezzotints Jingle Dancer, Cold Moon Dancer, and Fancy Shawl Dancer, evocatively rising up out of the shadows as if illuminated by campfire and in the full swing of movement. The texture and details of these works are remarkable, I find myself circling back to gaze at them again and again as well.
To the right is Joan Colbert’s Herbal Roulette linocut, classic, high contrast, beautiful line work and details. To the left is Nobuko Yamasaki’s Winter Solitude, a block print collage that portrays the starkness of bare branches against a winter sky in a lyrical way that reminds me of the illustrations of graphic novelist Craig Thompson. Further left are three disorienting etchings: Brandon Williams’ Van Allsburg-meets-Escher-esque Not That Simple, Still Here, and It Doesn’t Matter. In each, a simple scene pulls you in before letting the floor drop from under you, a railing or trim bend and give way to a dizzying expanse just beyond your claustrophobic and unleveled current confines.
In the next room, viewers can squeeze around a press to take in Martyna Matusiak’s Exercises in Parenthood. Three intaglios look scratched out with the roughness of many semitransparent frames layered over each other over time like an endlessly repeated task. They convey both the gentle fuzziness of a memory and the pain of a scar. Same Shit Different Labels by Demario Dotson takes the show’s black and white theme and makes the bold, heartbreaking statement that retooled phrasing can’t hide ancient hatred and the suppression of black voices.
By the back door, Brazilian artist Rosane Viegas’ woodcut First Snow 3 utilizes real branches and the crinkle of the thin paper to great textural effect. Three small mezzotints by Cleo Wilkinson Fruit III, Entropia I, and Witness II round out the show and bookcase it with mezzotints: atmospheric peaches and somber faces emerge from the small pools of darkness, conjuring up classic notions of a muse.
Divergent INK is on view until December 8, coinciding with Rubber City Prints’ holiday craft fair, 467 W Market St, Akron, OH 44303. For more information visit www.rubbercityprints.com.