‘Print National’ lands at Shy Rabbit
Pagosa gallery presents juried woodcut exhibit

Amy Schmierbach’s “the spaces between” is among the pieces currently on display at Shy Rabbit Gallery is Pagosa Springs./Courtesy photo

by Jules Masterjohn

If this were 15th century Germany, the images in this newspaper would have been made by hand, using a printmaking technique known as woodcut. There were no photographic capabilities available back then – everything was laboriously carved, etched and gauged by the printmaker. It would take almost 400 more years for human ingenuity to develop photographic processes that would liberate the artist – and printmaking – from being a mere recorder of the world to an agent of creativity and personal expression.

Many artists still use the age-old process of woodcut, enjoying the simplicity and directness of the technique. Mike Stephens is one such artist, and is among the 31 printmakers whose work is included in the exhibit “Print National,” currently on display at Shy Rabbit Contemporary Arts in Pagosa Springs. An impressive selection of work, the juried exhibition showcases notable printmakers from across the country and is a comprehensive survey of the many printmaking techniques in use today. The exhibit also offers a glimpse into the broad spectrum of thematic interests held by contemporary artists.

Stephen’s woodcuts are social commentaries showing a seedy side of life while Jon Goebel’s laborious, multicolored aquatints reference a seductive, upscale lifestyle. Amy Schmierbach uses etching techniques in combination with nontraditional materials like stitching and flocking to create abstract images that call attention to our perceptions of the world. Andrew De Caen pays homage to the Pop Art movement with his printed popcorn bags using the lithography process.

Both Texas artist Stephens and South Carolinian Goebel utilize a narrative format in their work. Stephens’ stark black-and-white images show intricate details of his characters’ worlds. In “Barefoot and …,” he depicts the story of a father and infant son (both sporting face tattoos) amidst the dingy interior of a kitchen, where something other than food is brewing. His images are disorienting, not only because of the strange scenarios he depicts. He has flattened the pictorial space causing the image to tip forward, toward the viewer, where the culinary chaos seems as if it may fall into the viewer’s lap.

His artist statement is particularly helpful in deciphering his intentions. Stephens writes: “By means of an alter-ego figure based upon a graphic comic book style that I have developed since childhood, I explore my place within the chaotic scenarios that often occur in today’s society. Through my work I will investigate my own self-identity and what my place is within that world through a working process of printmaking.

Mike Stephens’ woodcut “Barefoot and ...”/Courtesy photo

Using a style of representation that is diametrically opposed to Stephens,’ Jon Goebel entices us to his work with subtle complementary colors and softly rendered characters, though somewhat cartoon-like in their portrayal. “King of Cocktails” is a beautifully executed aquatint where the imagery is celebratory and the symbolism thick. The female figure is about ready to pop a cherry into her mouth while she gazes suggestively at the male figure, who is toasting with his martini glass. In the shallow space of the background, a large bomb rests nose-down, into a bare mattress. Goebel offers, “I intentionally relate/juxtapose compositional elements in a skewed context to encourage a wide range of literal and metaphorical interpretation. Leaving my viewer with something lingering is ultimately my intent.”

In contrast, Kansas artist Amy Schmierbach creates whirling worlds filled with gestural marks and non-art materials. She refers to her work as “abstracted landscapes” but these are not the vistas of the world we all can see: she instead portrays her psychological and emotional terrain.

Her series, “the spaces between,” was inspired by the peace and the chaos of raising her first baby, and the death of her father. With this work, Schmierbach hopes to abstractly illustrate the tension between the freedom and confinement of our everyday lives. By combining the lithographic process with textured materials, such as flocking and stitching, she intends to emphasize the importance of touching and being touched. She elaborates, “The circular repetitive patterns and sewing signify the obsessive compulsiveness of our thought process."

The diversity of subject matter and technique represented in “Print National” can be attributed to the expertise of the show’s juror, Michael D. Barnes, artist and printmaking professor at Northern Illinois University. Local artist and master printmaker, Ron Fundingsland says of Barnes, “The field of artists who submitted was excellent because of him. I would call it an exceptionally impressive gathering of prints executed by an equally exceptional group of seasoned professors and emerging independents from across the country.”

According to Fundingsland, this is a rare opportunity to see such high quality prints exhibited in the Four Corners area. Until next year, that is, when the folks at Shy Rabbit Contemporary Arts will do it again. This show has been so successful that they plan to make this an annual event. But don’t wait until next year to partake of the delights found in one of art’s oldest reproductive mediums. •

Print National is on display through Oct. 18 at Shy Rabbit Contemporary Arts, located at 333 Bastille Drive, in Pagosa Springs. Gallery hours are daily from 10 a.m. - 4 p.m. and Friday 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. 970-731-2766.



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