Go big or go home

It is said that artists are only limited by their imaginations. Contrary to that famous saying, printmakers are limited by the size of the printing press. That is, until they acquire some construction equipment to help them out. Asheville Bookworks is hosting an event on Saturday, Aug. 31, where eight to 10 artists will be creating prints using a steamroller as their printing press.

In order to pull a good quality print, a printing press is the tool of choice to provide even pressure to the paper and inked plate. And what is a steamroller but a superhero that does construction work by day and masquerades as art equipment on the weekends.

Hoping for dry weather, the Bookworks parking lot will become an outdoor studio for the event. According to founder Laurie Corral, “Visitors will watch the printmakers inking up their large cuts, placing large sheets of printmaking paper on them, and then watch the steamroller run over them. And here comes the magic, pulling the print,” she says.

“Steamroller printing isn't really a performance; it's not choreographed,” she shares. Events such as this are designed to create an occasion out of the art-making process. As such, public curiosity can inspire an active discussion about the prints and the process. “People don't always know what goes into making something. When they see a process at work and they see it’s made by a human and their hands are dirty, they might think: I would like to do that, or I get it. It moves people.”

Corral believes that the process originated in San Francisco in the 1980s. However, to be clear, there’s actually not steam involved. Even though it’s a paving roller that is used, “Everyone that does this calls them Steamroller Prints,” says Corral.

Before the event, artists create their images by carving into wood or sheets of linoleum with sizes starting at 36” by 36”. Although there was a course scheduled on how to make steamroller prints, the class was canceled due to low enrollment.

The event is being hosted in conjunction with a new exhibition that Bookworks is installing. The juried exhibition, PrintOcracy: A Fresh Print Movement, has more than 100 entries that include a full range of hand-pulled printmaking processes. It is the first in a series of biannual exhibitions, held on opposite years of BookOpolis, the well-known handmade artist book exhibition.

The logistical question: Where do you get the equipment? Corral says that it is “not easy in this town, although you see them along the road when there is construction. I followed up with all the local equipment rental stores and finally made contact with Carolina Cat. They are supporting the event with a 42-inch roller, a very generous donation.”

Corral believes this will be Asheville’s first steamroll print event, but she hopes it won’t be the last. “Printmaking is the people's art,” she says. “The first mass production process was print. It's accessible and affordable”

PrintOcracy: A Fresh Print Movement, opens Friday, Aug. 30, from 6-9 p.m., followed by the steamroller printing event on Saturday, Aug. 31, from 1-5 p.m. For more information visit http://www.ashevillebookworks.com.

— Steph Guinan can be reached at stephguinan@gmail.com.

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