Woodcuts, serigraphs, photo etchings, oh my

The word “print” could be one of the most confusing art terms. And with the advent of digital processes, the question of what constitutes an authentic print threatens to become even more muddled.

“Perfection Salad:” A serigraph from Melissa Harshman.

The Southern Graphics Council’s Traveling Print Exhibition, currently on display at Warren Wilson College’s Holden Gallery, offers a wide variety of fodder for the debate, including both new media and traditional printmaking styles.

Artist Mary Hood, for example, describes her work in the show as “laser relief, photo etching, inkjet.” Meanwhile, the works by Beej Nierengarten-Smith are identified as “photolithography, chine colle from 19th century glass slides.”

Does photography play a larger part in some of the works than the artist’s hand? Could it be that digital reproduction is becoming the norm and traditional printmaking techniques are becoming obsolete?

“It’s just a different aesthetic,” says Gwen Diehn, who teaches printmaking at Warren Wilson College. “You can do some things with digital work that can’t be done with traditional methods, but if it is digital it should be that—the artist shouldn’t try to make it look like something else.”

Some traditional artists have embraced both old and new.

Dorothy Simpson Krause, one of the show’s contributors, was trained as a painter. She says she’s not worried that the digital processes will render the traditional techniques obsolete. “It is just another way of presenting work, but the fun is in handling the papers and other materials,” Krause says from her home in Marshfield Hills, Mass.

“I’m easily bored,” she admits. “My computer desk is command central for my work, but the fun is all in the hand work. I work with every printmaking process, but I never do the same thing twice.”

The fun is handling the materials: For “Samode,” Dorothy Simpson Krause scanned a photo from a trip to India, a piece of hand towel and a sliver from a paper kite

Krause considers herself primarily a collagist. The best thing about using computers, she says, is that they allow her to combine many elements in a work and preserve valuable materials.

One of her pieces in this exhibition is created on brown paper she bought on a trip to India. For “Samode,” Krause scanned a photo from her journey, a piece of hand towel from her hotel and a sliver of paper from a kite that she spotted in a gutter. “This work could not have been made had I not had access to a UV-cured flatbed press used by the sign industry,” she says.

Still, she says, “Prints that are totally photography-based just don’t do it for me.”

The exhibition’s juror, Efram Burk, writes in his statement about the wide variety of techniques and media used by the artists he chose.

“This technical variety is indicative of the expressive means employed by today’s printmakers,” writes Burk, who teaches art history at the University of South Carolina at Beaufort. “Altogether, I feel this exhibition speaks of the depth and extent of current graphics.”

[Connie Bostic is an Asheville-based painter and writer.]

what: Traveling print exhibition from the Southern Graphics Council
where: Holden Gallery, Warren Wilson College
when: Through Sept. 29 (771-2000)


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