I haven’t been to the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair in a couple of years and can’t understand why. I went yesterday and remembered all over again why I love, love, love printmaking.
The BCPF is held every year at the Baltimore Museum of Art, and occupies one of their entire main exhibition galleries. This year over twenty different presses and dealers had work for sale.
It’s kind of crazy to be in a room full of thousands of pieces of artwork that you can buy. Oh, yes, I believe I’ll take one of those Warhols. Or, well, OK– throw in one of those Rauschenbergs too! I actually found a Rauschenberg for sale in the middle of a big pile of random prints from people like, oh, Robert Motherwell, and other Roberts, I guess. These were all just stacked in a bin for people to paw through.
There was no price listed on the sticker that was on the cellophane wrapping, but I didn’t think it would be worth asking (if you have to ask, as they say). The people attending was a strange mixture of art students and very, very wealthy people. You could practically smell the money in the room.
But for me, it was about seeing the art– and especially, seeing really well-known artists (John Baldessari, Louise Bourgeois, Wayne Thiebaud, Joan Mitchell) mixed in on an almost equivalent basis with newer artists. It was also cool to meet some of the people from the presses, who help artists realize their vision. Most printmakers don’t have their own presses. Presses (which is what you make prints on) are very large and expensive, and you need different presses to print different kinds of images, whether they’re woodcuts, etchings, aquatints, or lithographs. The people who publish prints are true devotees, both to art and to craft.
It was cool to see so many of them in one place and fun to talk to people at places were I used to live– e.g., Flatbed Press in Austin, which was located just around the corner from where I used to work at the University of Texas Press in East Austin. East Austin was the “bad side of town” when I worked there in the 1990s, but I hear tell it’s become quite the hipster happening place to be. Flatbed Press is doing some really cool stuff these days. Here are a couple of examples (oddly, both of the images I picked have birds in them, but that’s not a prerequisite to work with them):
The artists that made the strongest impression on me were quite different from each other in scale and size. I was totally taken with the fabulistic (and fabulous), large lithographs by Julie Buffalohead.
And the Paulson Bott Press (Berkeley, CA) had a number of things I really liked, but I thought the quilt-based aquatints by Gee’s Bend quiltmaker/printmaker Louisiana Bendolph were really stunning.
Saving the best for last, I was just smitten with the tiny, quirky, scientific, and yet oddly poignant etchings by Colombian artist José Antonio Suaréz Londoño, represented by the New York printers Harlan & Weaver (click here to see the whole suite). They recall botanical drawings from the 17th and 18th (16th?) centuries documenting all those crazy strange species in the New World to continental investors, yet also represent self-contained, self-sufficient worlds. If I had more time and a better understanding of Spanish they would probably do even more for me.
The unfortunate thing about seeing these images online is that the standardiziation process of web-based blog templates make everything look alike. If you get out your tape measure and actually compare the sizes of the James Nares print to the Londoño one, you will see what I mean. The Nares print is over a dozen times wider than Londoño’s. This is why it’s so important to go see these things. The great thing about BCPF is that you can see them up close and even hold them in your hands (Lodoño’s, not Nadel’s). Several dealers had artists’ books that were not wrapped in cellophane, just there lying on tables for people to look through as they wished.
One of these was Wingate Studio (Hinsdale, NH). I liked what I saw at first glance, but didn’t have time to look more carefully. Their website is cool, and so is their blog. A missed opportunity. Oh well– next year.
After that headiness, I headed south to the “poor man’s print fair,” the Prints and Multiples Fair (PMF VI), which found new digs this year at the wonderful Baltimore Design School in Station North. PMF IV is sort of the skate-punk little sibling of the BCPF, a scrum of current and recently graduated art students from MICA and other area colleges, craft artists, and, well, lots of skateboarder types. Lots and lots of zines, posters, random printed materials, and people eating their lunches out of styrofoam containers and drinking coffee as people streamed by. Great energy– lots of fun.
Here, I discovered that there is a letterpress studio within walking distance of my house, the Baltimore Print Studios. I think I’ve been so busy teaching and researching and basically, professoring, that I haven’t had a second to even think about doing any printing. But they’ve been in my backyard for 5 years! I must stop by. Maybe set some type. Print a book. I may sign up for their May introductory letterpress session– let me know if you want to join me!
Hope you enjoyed that little whirlwind tour of the print-related festivities this weekend. I’d love to see your comments– I did some site maintenance over the weekend as well, and learned that non-Wordpress users can leave comments by clicking on the “Change” button in the comment window, which will then allow you to leave comments via Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.
What do you think of these artists? About printmaking? The relationship between printmaking and print culture? Let me know.