Janet Turner Gallery curator Catherine Sullivan speaks about the venue’s annual print competition.
It’s easy to forget just how small the space is. As you move past the reception desk and glance around, you realize that the room is maybe only 25 feet by 20 feet, but one with unusually high walls, the ceiling slanting up from the outside-facing wall as if you were in a peculiarly tall attic.
Today in the Janet Turner Print Gallery, located upstairs in CSUC’s Laxson Auditorium’s mezzanine, a man and a woman are measuring the window spaces and generally surveying the area. Gallery Curator Catherine Sullivan enters a few minutes later and discusses a few renovation matters with the two. It seems the 20-year-old gallery is to receive a face-lift of sorts.
I’ve originally come to the gallery to discuss the upcoming Janet Turner National Print Competition, an event occurring every two years that receives literally hundreds of entries from across the country and was basically suggested by Sullivan herself back when she earned the curator position in 1993. However, an update on the status of the galley’s location seems both necessary and unavoidable.
Sullivan, a petite, bespectacled, silver-haired woman, explains that since the gallery was unable to move to Colusa Hall, as previously announced a year or so ago, it seemed only right that the old space be spruced up a bit. She says that because construction has been halted on state campuses, the groups currently holding the proposed gallery space in Colusa Hall were unable to move out. “I guess there’s no state monies for new construction on college campuses,” she says.
However, the good news is that there’s a state bond on the March election ballot, which, if passed, may improve the gallery’s situation. “If it passes in March,” Sullivan says, “the timeline they’d roughly give would maybe be three years. If it doesn’t pass, then we have to keep getting it on [the ballot] until it does. So, in light of the fact that we can’t move, and we’ve been in this space for 20 years, it’s in desperate need of looking better. It looks exactly like it did 20 years ago.”
Sullivan herself has been around a while, too. She first came to Chico in 1968, straight out of a Sacramento high school. “My parents wanted me to go somewhere ‘safe’ in the ‘60s,” she admits and smiles. “Personally, I would have liked to go to San Francisco State, but that wasn’t an option.” Sullivan’s degrees are in art, both from Chico State.
But she is also known in the community for another talent: dance. “I still actually teach at Chico Creek Dance Centre,” Sullivan says. “I’m also one of the co-directors of Chico Community Ballet. We do the Nutcracker, and we just did Coppélia.”
The conversation soon turns to the upcoming Print Competition. Sullivan explains the event’s origins. “When I was first hired,” she says, “one of the things I said in my [job] interview was [that] I thought we should have a national print competition. And one of our former board members actually spearheaded the first one. This is our fourth.”
She explains that the event brings in examples of printmaking from outside the area. “We’re in a rural environment,” she says. “We’re not close to anything really major in terms of the art world, and it’s an opportunity for the campus and the community to see works that they wouldn’t normally get to see, unless they were willing to travel.”
When asked what is different about this year’s show, Sullivan states that this time, rather than being confined to the small space of the gallery, the works will also be divided and displayed in the University Gallery and, for the first time, an off-campus site—the 1078 Gallery, on West Fifth Street.
“We’re a small space,” she says. “To get this thing organized takes eight months. To just have it in this one little room. … We also work with the University Gallery. That’s traditionally been our second site. And this year what’s really exciting is 1078 Gallery wanted to be part of it, and now we have a community site. So the selected entries will be shown in all three sites and none are duplicates.”
Exactly how many entries did you receive?
Sullivan answers that there were over 600 submitted slides!
“We have 207 artists from 38 states … and Canada,” she states, and then adds, somewhat amused, “Invariably, we always get one entry from Canada. And invariably the one from Canada also gets chosen! We’ve mostly kept it national because when you start crossing the border, shipping things … it gets a little complicated.”
I suggest that poring over 600 slides must be a monumental task. “That’s a lot of clicking!” she admits. “We look at them all first [before sending them to the pre-selected juror]. Once they’re all catalogued and loaded in carousels, we run our own show to make sure the carousels work, that we’ve got the slides in appropriately, and to see everything that’s been entered. That’s very interesting—to see how it all gets pared down.”
In charge of paring down the offerings this time will be Joan Prior. “She’s an art consultant from Arizona,” Sullivan says. “She helps corporations and museums build and dispose of collections.” Prior is also president of Armstrong Publishers. “Her husband is a master printer,” adds Sullivan. “He works with artists to do fine-art print editions. They’re both very knowledgeable in printmaking, and she sees a lot of art nationwide. That’s why she was chosen as a juror.”
Sullivan tries to select someone she believes will offer a different point of view for each competition.
“We like to put as few limits on [the juror] as possible,” she says. “We pick a juror whose integrity we trust. We’re really asking them not only to pick what they feel are strong visual images, but also, because printmaking has its own traditions, that those traditions, methods and techniques are well represented. We even accept digital prints, as long as they are handled in the traditional manner, which means signed and editioned. They’re in the tradition, but they’re using a different means. And some shows don’t accept [digital prints] as printmaking. In the 21st century there’s got to be some change in the field. So we accept it as long as the artist intends the work to be a print.”
Sullivan expects that the show will be “lively, engaging and different. We’re not just a little room where they slap some art on the walls.”
The Fourth National Print Competition and Exhibition is displayed Monday, Feb. 25, through Friday, March 22, in the Janet Turner Print Gallery, the University Gallery and the 1078 Gallery. The awards ceremony takes place at 3 p.m. Saturday, March 9, in Performing Arts Center Room 132 on the CSU, Chico campus. For more information, call 898-4476.