Printmakers Candace Nicol and Lorin Humphreys had studios next to each other at Boise State University, where they were pursuing MFA degrees. “We just officially met two years ago,” says Nicol. They shared some common circumstances and became fast friends. Both came from Mormon backgrounds in small towns (Nicol is originally from Elko). Both were in their 40s, returning to school while raising families. Both look to experiences from childhood and current relationships for subject matter.
During a two-person exhibit in Boise, Nicol and Humphreys noticed where their work diverged into parallel paths: Nicol’s images tended to show interior scenes; Humphreys’ work focused more on the landscapes outside. (Was it a gender divide, they wondered?)
They decided to work together. They set some parameters: The pieces would be about 11 by 14 inches, contained in a wood frame they built beforehand. Then they each added their own flourishes: a thick smear of green paint, a ripped-paper door, a rusty nail.
In the resulting series, Trading Space, on exhibit at the Northwest Reno Library Gallery, exterior space and interior space exist, literally and psychologically, on the same page. Windows and doors allude to escape and entry. Everything is sealed with hard, glossy plastic resin that makes some of the scenes—already marked with a claustrophobic twinge—seem like they’re trapped under water.
“The work remarks on society and how we look at imagery and photographs, how we look at hidden desires, wants, sexuality,” says Nicol.
The collaboration is seamless. The only indicator that each piece was made by four hands is the title card on the wall.
“We had to send them back and forth,” says Nicol, who now lives in Sparks.
While not every artist can work with a partner quite this closely, the fact that printmaking is a reproducible medium lends it to group efforts, usually in the form of print exchanges. Several artists will each print an edition, based around a theme, to trade. Everyone ends up with an identical set of everyone else’s prints, and often the sets are exhibited.
Nicol says she’s usually involved in four or five print exchanges at a time. True to her experimental nature, she’s organizing an exchange called “Intermediate Objects,” in which any reproducible medium will do. One artist is casting a series of tree trunks for the occasion, and Nicol is working on a series made of puzzle pieces.
Nicol says her medium is flourishing in some regions, and she hopes the fledgling local printmaking scene can draw inspiration from national trends. She’s pleased that a few area printmakers who’ve been laboring alone are beginning to create some momentum. The exhibit they’re planning for this summer at Truckee Meadows Community College should help with that mission. And so, probably, will the sense of humor that inspired the group’s name: the Printmakers’ Conspiracy.