The grand Victorian that houses Mahaffey Print Studios is a den of aesthetic delight. Mark Mahaffey and his wife Rae came to Portland in 1992 with the encouragement and support of Portland Art Museum curator and print-o-phile Gordon Gilkey, and the Mahaffey’s expertise has brought a new rigor to the prints being made in Portland. It has attracted artists from across the country and encouraged them to create distinctive prints in their shop for the past 14 years.
The current exhibition, Fourteen Artists/Fourteen Years, consists of prints made by 14 artists chosen from proofs set aside for the Gilkey collection by Mahaffey. The range of work on view is diverse, running the gamut from crisp polemic to philosophical inquiry and sculptural processes. Although the work of these 14 artists is disparate, some of the work is held together by its meditation on pure forms and subtle visual syntax.
There is something deeply fascinating about how sculptors, painters and conceptual artists express themselves in a fine art medium that has withstood the test of time. Some have already decreed the “death of the print,” but the work in this exhibition proves that it is vital and relevant to the artistic discourse of our times. Mahaffey and other vital printmakers embrace technological innovations and freely integrate new approaches in their artistic recipes.
Joel Stewart, an artist based in Kyoto, manipulated a digital version of a copper plate before returning to the plate and making the final print. In one poignant print on display in the first gallery, Fleeting Moment (2002), Stewart creates an atmospheric effect that radiates a multitude of color with a calm ambiance. One of the challenges inherent in printmaking is to meld divergent layers into a holistic piece that does not appear cluttered. With Mahaffey’s refined techniques of aquatint, spitbite, sugarlift, etching, roulette, and stencil, Stewart created stunning works that are nothing short of sublime.
Mahaffey has collaborated with a number of sculptors including John Aitken, who made prints in 2000 while working on a commission for the Urban Studies Plaza on campus. The monochromatic prints are almost as subtle as the sculptural work installed at the plaza, relying on the internal tension of elliptical shapes filled with small squares. Hidden in the back of the second gallery are two bold prints by New York sculptor Jene Highstein, created in 1993 while Mahaffey Studios was in its infancy. These large works express a tactile physical reality that nearly jumps off the paper, held down only by an intense black area that was specially blended by Mahaffey.
Another sculptor from New York City, Carol Hepper, made color lithographs in response to the sexual connotations she found in Portland’s plumbing structures during a visit in 1995. She sees the city as a man-made organism with plumbing representing parts of the human body.
”Our world is fashioned after our own understanding of our bodies, thus revealing a collective consciousness that we all share,” Hepper said.
These prints relate closely to sculptures Hepper had begun making with copper tubes and plumber’s joints. Regarding this work she said, “There’s a visual line, there’s a feeling of it pulling and connecting itself so the pieces pull back on themselves. Almost like a neutron circulating around, in continuous motion.”
In these profound prints, the entwined pipes reveal the cyclical nature of existence as they wind their way into a sophisticated form of inter-relation that has no beginning and no end.
In order for a project to ignite, there has to be a vital mix of chemistry between the artist and master printer. The collaborative aspects are Mahaffey’s favorite part of the process, where the mind of the artist and artisan unite.
”My role is to be both seen and unseen,” Mahaffey said.
He is there to feed the artists materials and share his expertise, but ultimately the artist is in control. One artist in the exhibition, Linda Lacker, likened Mahaffey to a midwife, one who nurtures and assists in the birth of prints. Hepper has worked with many different printmakers. “Each time I do prints with a master printer it’s a wonderful learning experience for me.”
Most of the artwork in this exhibit converses in the same aesthetic language, thus their work interacts and flows between one another smoothly. The prints on display by local artists spoke a provincial dialect that appeared replete with trite didacticism. These representational pieces by Laura Ross-Paul, Sherrie Wolf and Linda Lanker caught the eye due to their excessive detail and rainbow-like palette. The curator for this exhibit, Annette Dixon, organized the prints by their birthplace rather than relying on the content of the artists’ work, a perspective that allows room for work that would otherwise feel out of place.
Through Jan. 14, 2007
Portland Art Museum
1219 S.W. Park Ave.
[ADDITIONAL TEXT BOXES]
Public Tours of “Fourteen Years/Fourteen Artists”
Nov. 2 and 24
Dec. 12 and 28
12 p.m. – 1 p.m.
Walk Through: Meet Curator Annette Dixon
Jan. 10, 1:15-2:15 p.m.
Have you picked up your museum pass for the year yet? If not, they’re still available at the front desk of the Portland Art Museum for $10. It’s a 100-percent mark-up from last year but still a scorching deal! All you need to bring is your student ID.