Contemporary Women Printmakers I

I just saw a wonderful exhibit – Women’s Work: Contemporary Women Printmakers from the collection of Jordan Schnitzer and his family foundation at IDEA Space, Colorado College in Colorado Springs. The exhibit included 56 /5000 prints from the collection.

LAYERING was a common theme in many of my favorite prints in the show.

I loved Helen Frankenthaller’s huge abstract woodcut, Madame Butterfly (2000), with 46 woodblocks used to create the artwork. Although she’s more known for her color field paintings, I love Frankenthaller’s woodcuts even more. Similar to her fluid transparent use of paint with canvas showing through; in this woodcut, transparent inks reveal the surface texture of the woodblocks underneath. She used her ‘guzzying’ technique, which involved using dental tools and sandpaper to raise the texture of the wood for better printing. Lovely layering!

In Sherrie Wolf’s Artemisia Suite prints, still life fruit images were layered on top of old copies of Artemisia Gentileschi’s 17th century paintings of women. Her oppositional use of old and new artwork, and the swirling figures versus the static fruit was intriguing. Sherrie Wolf commented on her artwork,

“Art stretches us by being several things at once. It can be a ripe fruit ready to fall off the canvas onto the floor, but also, when viewed up close a collection of brushstrokes on a flat surface.”

As a photographer/printmaker, I liked Hung Liu’s lithographs that were based on old Chinese photos. “My prints are metaphors for memory and history.” she said. The photos became more subjective and reinterpreted with her painterly style of Abstract Expressionism. Also, the layering of landscape imagery such as wildflowers and birds in Hung Liu’s added another dimension of symbolism of Chinese women. Ironically, in China everything had to be “official“, and hence Liu “broke the rules” in her Unofficial Portrait series. Her past history of the Cultural Revolution, her art training in dogmatic China, and her present status as an American art professor, show the dual nature of her images and style. The layering of multiple themes of womenhood, culture, and aesthetics are implicit in her “portraits”. “Printmaking is about layers”, Hung Liu explains on page 5 of Painterly Proofs: Prints by Hung Liu.

It was great to see an exhibit of some of our best contemporary women printmakers! What I thoroughly enjoyed was that the artists used many conventional printing methods in a contemporary manner, and there weren’t any monotypes in the show.

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