Biennial print competition shows the art form’s power of endurance
If you haven’t yet visited the The Janet Turner Print Museum and the adjoining Jacki Headley University Art Gallery in the new Arts & Humanities Building at Chico State, their current shared exhibit is exquisite motivation for doing so. Currency: 11th Turner National Print Competition & Exhibition offers a very diverse selection of printmaking techniques and aesthetics, and subject matter that ranges from purely abstract to decoratively figurative to sociologically/politically motivated.
Submissions for the 2017 edition of the biennial juried competition came from all over, with 99 artists from 32 states and five different countries submitting pieces. Highlights from the 36 artists selected include California “artist, instigator and impresario” Art Hazelwood’s woodcut, “Culture Street.” Done in stark old-school black and white, the woodcut’s heavy lines depict in graphic detail a building-lined city scene with an ocean view crowded with characters: a police officer kicking back with his feet on a desk, a urinating toddler, street gossips, a paper boy, a food-cart vendor, and dogs and cats lounging in the shadows.
Contrasting gorgeously with Hazelwood’s piece is Nicole Pietrantoni’s abstract “Sunset Strips,” which is composed of “inkjet and spray paint on Kozo paper, handbound into 11 accordion books.” The “books” are opened in vertical strips, each being printed in colors ranging spectrum-like from deep gray to orange-yellow to muted purple, with the triangular folds of the paper giving the piece a sculptural dimensionality. The overall effect is very soothing, somehow evoking the serenity of the sunset in its title.
Massachusetts-based Lindsey Clark-Ryan’s scarlet-and-white woodcut, “Return,” is an abstract piece demonstrating the infinite dimensions that can be depicted in two-dimensional space, implying that even two-dimensional space can be folded, curved and molded directly from the artist’s mind into the visual consciousness of its beholder.
Very different, but just as graphically dazzling and equally evocative, is David Avery’s etching, “Running on Empty.” It evokes both DaVinci and Michelangelo in its depiction of a free-floating consumer, errant over a field of oil wells, SUVs, gas pumps and a rather Republican-looking elephant.
If there is an incongruent aspect of the show, it’s the title/theme, “Currency.” One can see the attraction of trying to draw a parallel between printed money and newer, digital forms of economic exchange, or in wanting to declare as a theme that the show is all about using the most up-to-date technologies and definitions of printmaking as a craft or art form. But jurist Erin Sullivan Maynes says the reasoning was that, “Although neither is threatened with immediate death in the digital age, both [paper money and artists’ prints] do share and project a certain amount of material uncertainty ….” That doesn’t quite connect with the actual content of the exhibit, because the pieces seem to emphasize that printmaking is very much alive and infinitely viable and applicable to the current state of human affairs.
There are literally dozens of praise-worthy pieces, and I can’t mention them all in this short summary of an afternoon preview of the show, so you’ll just have to visit the galleries’ expansive display and see for yourself. Better yet, tonight (Feb. 2) is the opening reception at the Turner, which will be preceded by a curator’s talk in Zingg Recital Hall.