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Out of the Print Shop

Tue, 02/20/2024 - 09:14
The current exhibition of prints at The Church in Sag Harbor seems less crowded than usual, but each work is a complex example of its medium.
Talena Mascali

The Church's current print show, closing on Sunday, has taken a thoughtful approach to the art and craft of printmaking. It displays not merely the products of the print studio, but the tools, blocks, stones, plates, and states that go into their production. 

Samuel Havens, the curator of "Master Impressions: Artists and Printers on The South Fork," runs The Church's workshop and residency program. He is also a printmaker and educator, responsible for a popular series of monotype workshops at the Sag Harbor arts center. 

At 27 objects, the show is a small one. Yet each piece has a history linking it to the area. Often concrete examples of the complexities of the medium, they also represent its various forms.

One thing a casual viewer might notice right away is that the wall labels have additional credits. These are to recognize the master printers who worked with the artists to shepherd their prints from idea to plate, stone, or block to final state. The show was designed to underline how printers and artists collaborate to create a greater whole than each could produce on their own. 

An installation view of the upstairs galleries. Joe Jagos

This small act of recognizing the printer in these works required a good deal of research and dedication on Mr. Havens's part and is, in its own way, revolutionary. 

One name viewers will see quite a lot is Dan Welden. He is represented by his own work, a woodcut and monoprint on paper called "Orange Mist," where, as with others in the show, he is credited as being the printer as well. Mr. Welden is an artist, but also has his own studio, Hamptons Editions Ltd. in Noyac. He has been here since 1980 and has made prints for and with some of the most storied names of the South Fork art colony, including The Church's co-founder, Eric Fischl. 

The show has several loans from his archive, including finished works by Elaine de Kooning, Connie Fox, Alfonso Ossorio, and Ellen Peckham. While these are primarily straightforward lithographs, Ms. Peckham's piece is a Solarprint etching on paper, a process Mr. Welden invented to cut down on the harsh chemicals involved in traditional etching. 

Also on loan from his studio is an unprinted and unetched plate made by Dan Flavin. The artist, who died in 1996 and is known for his work with florescent lights, had a house in Wainscott and with the Dia Art Foundation started the Dan Flavin Art Institute, now known as Dia Bridgehampton. According to the wall label, Flavin made the plate in 1983 while at Mr. Welden's studio. It provides insight into an intermediate step in the etching process as well as the artist's working methods. Flavin was a frequent visitor and collaborator in Mr. Welden's studio, working in lithograph as well.

The show has some unexpected artists in the mix, including a Jasper Johns diptych of two complex images using text and alluding to sign language. Not the first name that comes to mind when thinking of South Fork artists, Mr. Johns has achieved honorary citizenship in the local art colony by his frequent visits in its earlier days and friendships with those artists who have lived here. Mr. Johns's print practice began early in his career and has continued in his art compound in Sharon, Conn., where John Lund, a master printer who has worked with him for decades, prepares plates and proofs them.

The printing process can be as complicated or as straightforward as the artist wants to make it. On a recent evening at The Church, Mr. Havens and Norm Paris, an artist and educator who has been a resident at the arts center, discussed a relief print by Nanette Carter. It used three different blocks and a complicated coloring layering process to achieve its final result. 

Although Ms. Carter was told by the founder of the printmaking workshop that what she wanted to achieve could not be done, "she would not take that for an answer. So, working with master printmaker Kelly Driscoll, who she actually went to Pratt with . . . they reprinted the red again and again on top of itself to get this rich vibrancy that stands out," according to Mr. Havens.

Prints by Fay Lansner and Roy Lichtenstein are featured in "Master Impressions." Joe Jagos

He also pointed out the multiple stones and scale of Fay Lansner's untitled seven-color lithograph from 1970. Each color required its own stone, and the print incorporates shapes that look like paper collage. The composition also contains a figure set out in loosely drawn lines. "The way that Fay was able to bring together these beautiful geometric shapes with the organic drawn lines, it's gorgeous. And I really love the element of an almost torn-paper-like collage she brings into her work."

Even without a tour, some of these elements and stories are described in rather long wall labels for each piece. Sometimes having too much information can be intrusive, or the questions an artwork raises can be much more complicated than what a mere few lines can address. Here, the effort is just right. Given the technical elements and the complicated ways artists in this show have pursued the medium, more <I>is<P> more, and better. The curators are not dropping petals from some ivory tower. They want to inculcate deeper meaning to inspire potential connoisseurs.

There are plenty of other artists, too many really to mention, some famous, some neighbors, and some long dead. Their works on view offer a window into their creative processes as well as their personalities, ambitions, and drive. The collaborative and social nature of the print shop brings these expressions to the fore in a way that a lone artist in a studio, facing a blank canvas or a marble block, might never share.

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