FIVE WOMEN IN PRINTMAKING
By Erin Goodwin-Guerrero

Fall 2007

Having taught screenprinting for thirty-some years, at the Minneapolis College of art and Design, then, the San Francisco Art Institute and finally, at San Jose State University, I know a lot of printmakers. But screenprinting does not always run with the mainstream of printmaking, so my own mixed-media work has not necessarily kept me in touch with this scene. I was surprised (I am not sure why) that the San Jose ICA was including a printshop in its new digs. But, why not? Printmaking is versatile, useful to two and three-dimensional thinking and its processes seem to appeal to artists that work in every medium. I realized that, recently, I have had the pleasure to see a great number of women – both former students and teaching colleagues – who work in the varied printmaking processes, assuming important roles, generating provocative projects and doing extraordinary work.

FANNY RETSEK
A New Print Workshop at the San Jose ICA
Draws Attention to Printmaking and Printmakers

At the end of June, 2007, I met with Fanny Retsek, Director of and master printer in the new print workshop of the newly designed San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art. Probably as a result of the annual Monotype Marathon, a print workshop was one element of the new facilities requested by many artists. Anticipation and planning for the new print center was Retsek’s incentive to commit to a long-term relationship with the ICA.

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Fanny Restsek with tools of her trade in the new ICA Print Center

The ICA’s print workshop is not Fanny Retsek’s first print atelier. After graduate school at San Jose State University, she and classmate Sandra Starkey Simon started Magpie Studios in the Citadel Studios in Martha Gardens. Fanny had assisted Sandra, the master printer, printing editions for guest artists at the University’s Washington Square Press. They both wanted a studio where, as artists themselves, they could continue to print. It came naturally to think in terms of a community resource that educated, provided equipment and services to other artists and served their own needs as well. Magpie Studios offered a wide range of print processes, from etching to screenprinting. The ICA’s new studio will focus primarily on etching and monotypes from the inked plate.

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Naomie Kramer’s monotype, seen in the ICA’s Monotype Marathon

On the day of my visit, outside the workshop, in the gallery, hallways and conference room, the annual ICA fundraiser — the Monotype Marathon – held forth. Monotypes by both mid-career artists of stature and newcomers to the arts scene filled the walls. I was drawn to Tim Craighead’s Monotype VIII, with whimsical shapes and movements so like his large paintings, playing lines and geometry off of soft painterly contrasts. The unidentifiable organic forms that float through space, the watercolor-like washes and the strange hybrid flower forms in Kerry Vander Meer’s Reunion 5, appealed to me as well. Works by Cheryl Decines Carter and Naomie Kramer, also caught my attention. The exhibition demonstrates the remarkable range of possibilities and stylistic directions compatible with monotype.

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In the Monotype Marathon: Kerry Vander Meer’s Reunion 5

Retsek talks about the relationship of the Monotype Marathon and the ICA to the community. For one thing, an awareness of printmaking is furthered by the monotype exhibition and auction, throughout the community and among collectors. And, Retsek anticipates that the quality of the prints will improve as more artists spend more time with the medium. Certainly the popularity of the annual print marathon is not an issue. While the ICA now has more space than ever before to show the art, it may be reaching its limits. Last year, the workshops filled immediately and artist applications to participate were actually turned down for lack of a space to work. As the event becomes more prestigious, it inevitably will become more exclusive, for those reasons alone.

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Retsek works with artist Mary Souza in the San Jose ICA Print Center

She speaks of the allure of printmaking. “It’s amazing the love artists have for printmaking, no matter what their primary medium. All artists seem to get excited about it. It can be very experimental. The lack of preciousness — particularly in monotypes — is very liberating. Artists take risks they would not otherwise take.” She speaks of “fortuitous accidents”.

Retsek also situates printmaking in the history of populist art politics. Prints are original works of art produced in affordable multiples — affordable for the home, accessible to the populist voice and, historically, political causes. There is an interesting nexus between traditional printmaking and digital imagery in the information age. While Thomas Friedman might say the introduction of iris prints and the giclee process to the printmakers’ repertoire is part of leveling of the playing field in an elitist art world, Retsek points out that it serves to further illuminate the distinction between original art (i.e. traditional printmaking) and reproductions. Education about prints and the correction of misunderstandings about printmaking is one of the goals of the workshop.

The workshop has several functions related to both ICA programming and community needs. Classes and workspace are offered to local artists as well as the ICA’s guest artists. Four are to be invited annually, each to spend a month working with the master printer. They will receive shows in the Conference Room Gallery. Under certain circumstances, other artists may be invited to work with the master printer, also. In September, Ema Harris-Sintamarian is the artist in residence, Darren Waterston will come in January and Doug Glovaski will follow in February of 2008.

The ICA’s November exhibition is the Landscape of War, guest-curated by Anne Birle Veh. One of the exhibiting artists is Pamela Wilson-Ryckman, who will also print in the ICA Print workshop during the run of the show. Retsek’s etching series, Studies for O yea. Darfur. that documents the endless deaths in Darfur with little rectangles of 2000 marks each, ultimately counting human lives lost in that war, will also be seen in this show.

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Landscape of War will include Retsek’s etching series Studies for O yea. Darfur.

The community has already begun to take advantage of opportunities offered — classes and workshops for student printmakers at several levels of expertise, use of the studio at $40.00 per hour for artists working at their own convenience, and first Saturdays for artists working in groups of six at $15.00 per hour each. This programming is intended to serve community needs and raise self-supporting revenues at the same time.

In the meantime, Fannie Retsek continues her own work as an artist in her San Jose studio where she can screenprint and maintains an etching press. At one time she did lithographs that were fluid depictions of animals: a bestiary. Her current work, seen recently at the Michael Rosenthal Gallery, Contemporary Art, continues to reveal her concern for animals and the earth. Still moved by a political and social conscience, it has become more abstract and graphic.

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Retsek’s drawing entitled Baghdad Morgue

In the form of row upon row of tiny hatch marks that can grow, like cancer cells, into the shape of a strange figure, trees or a ghostly ship, Retsek documents the travesties that have become nothing more than statistical notations on our journey through acts of cruelty, crimes, wars, destruction of the environment, genocide, waste and depletion of resources. About her process, she says, “As I make the marks, I count them, tallying up some figure that has been thrown into the world as statistical analysis, describing any number of hideous events. Within my daily routine, I find myself always returning to these numbers, and I have to get them out of my head. I do this so that I can connect to what is happening all around me. These numbers are symbols of ongoing atrocious behavior, and my mark-making may also be described as a penance for my participation.”

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