Mak­ing strong im­pres­sions

Print ex­hibit “Pressed” is proof that some art needs to be seen up close

Albany Times Union - Sunday - - ARTS - By Wil­liam Jaeger ▶

There are cer­tain things an artist can say by mak­ing a wood­cut or litho­graphic im­pres­sion that can’t be said any other way. This is one of the pulls for any artist to the de­mands of print­mak­ing, which re­quires ex­act­ing tech­nique and spe­cial­ized equip­ment. And it is the pull into “Pressed,” the rich and some­times sur­pris­ing new show of six con­tem­po­rary print­mak­ers at Skid­more’s Schick Gallery.

Nearly all art is at its­best­seeninthe flesh in a gallery. If you think that lithographs and wood­cuts, since they are made in mul­ti­ples on paper like pho­to­graphs, and since they are of­ten rather small, might re­pro­duce just fine, think again. And ab­so­lutely not here. The tac­tile, ma­te­ri­ally rich ob­jects in “Pressed” do have to be seen to be un­der­stood.

For starters, some of the work is huge. Tom Huck’s comic, epic wood­cut, “The Trans­for­ma­tion of Brandy Bag­head,” is some 6 feet tall and al­most as wide in three sec­tions. And it has room for a com­plex riot of en­tan­gled fig­ures printed in dark ink on bright white paper in a kind of al­ter­na­tive comic book style (think Robert Crumb out of con­trol and life size). The large ef­fect is over­whelm­ing, but there is a hint of sense in the non­sen­si­cal de­tails—women fight­ing, food fly­ing, shack­les and scis­sors, a View­mas­ter and an un­happy cat, flames and head­pieces and masks, and an im­prob­a­ble pageant queen. Is there a commentary about beauty and gen­der stereo­typ­ing here? Prob­a­bly.

The equally im­pos­ing wood­cuts of Sean Caulfield are more main­stream as il­lus­tra­tions, but they still ex­ag­ger­ate, in­vent­ing im­prob­a­ble con­trap­tions with logs and flames and what­not. And a third artist mak­ing wood­cuts, Karen Kunc, wan­ders a more fa­mil­iar path (and more usual size), ply­ing color onto rounded ab­stract shapes in for­mally at­trac­tive terms. With­out nar­ra­tive pull, Kunc’s wood­cut prints de­pend on the vis­ual plea­sure of the very tac­tile lay­er­ing of pig­ment on the paper.

The strange, finely ex­e­cuted nar­ra­tive lithographs by Kathryn Polk give us sit­u­a­tions of women in cri­sis, or in mo­ments of what I would call self-doubt, though any in­ter­pre­ta­tion steps on thin ice. In “Let This Be a Warn­ing,” a woman dressed in an open over­coat show­ing a slip, her hair in bobby pins, is wield­ing a kind of wimpy di­vin­ing rod. Near her feet, clad in ath­letic socks, is a glass of wa­ter tipped over. Her face is rel­a­tively blank, or cu­ri­ous, or maybe re­signed.

The prints most re­quir­ing a per­sonal visit to the show must be those by Miguel Aragon, which have a sub­tle di­men­sional as­pect that is es­sen­tial to their shift­ing, elu­sive, haunt­ing imagery. The la­bel reads “burnt residue em­boss­ing,” which sounds like push­ing a pli­able paper against an un­even plate (em­boss­ing) that has some charred qual­ity sur­face (trans­fer­ring a faint burst residue). This is al­most a re­turn to the most ba­sic print­mak­ing meth­ods be­fore the dis­cov­ery of ink, though here the paper is pressed against a card­board sur­face that has been cut with a laser.

For his source ma­te­rial, Aragon ap­pro­pri­ates Mex­i­can news­pa­per pho­to­graphs of peo­ple killed in the drug war. The re­sults are filled with hints of tragedy, and yet only in the barest traces of ev­i­dence left in the bright gallery, many steps re­moved from bru­tal re­al­ity—much as a viewer in up­state New York is nec­es­sar­ily dis­tant from what is truly hap­pen­ing there. It takes some ne­go­ti­at­ing, and maybe squint­ing, to get the fig­ures to rise out of the lit­tle jolts and bumps scat­tered over each sur­face.

If print­mak­ers oc­cupy a cu­ri­ous cor­ner of the arts, equally ham­pered and en­abled by their cum­ber­some craft, they also come through with works that make the most of de­lib­er­a­tion and ex­e­cu­tion. Through size, ma­te­rial, imag­i­na­tion, and sheer in­no­va­tion, these six artists make phys­i­cal proof of the on­go­ing rel­e­vance of their tech­niques.

■ Where: Schick Art Gallery, Skid­more Col­lege, Saratoga Springs

■ When: Through Nov. 28

■ Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon­day-thurs­day, 10 a.m.4 p.m. Fri­day, 12-4 p.m. Satur­day and Sun­day

■ Ad­mis­sion:

■ Info: www.skid­ schick or 518-580-5049

Wil­liam Jaeger is a fre­quent con­trib­u­tor to the Times Union.

Wil­liam Jaeger

Above, Kathryn Polk,“Be­side My­self,” 2018, stone and plate lithog­ra­phy.

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