(ref: Part-4)

VIRGINIA WESTPHAL UHL
Books, Political Passions and the Meditative Processes of Printmaking
By Erin Goodwin, October 2007

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Ginney Uhl was a screenprinting student in my class as an undergraduate, then a few years later, as a graduate student. On both occasions she elected to make a book in which her images and would interface with poetry. Uhl began as a self-taught book artist, but got hooked in Patrick Surgalski’s book making class, offered in the context of SJSU’s printmaking program.Her first screenprinted book, Between the Crown and the Throne, is the story of her journey in and out of the corporate world to her life as an artist. Layers of symbols, screenshots of computer solitaire, an ornate and ancient key inherited from her father, and sections of maps are the terrain that she and her protagonists march across. Her skinny enigmatic figures are actually forms she molded in clay and then photographed digitally to be further developed in the computer programs she uses extensively. Her poetry is screened onto the images.

Around the printmaking area of school, Ginney Uhl is a nearly nearly a fixture, totally immersed in her work and unfazed by the distractions that undo many artists. About the process, Uhl says, “Screenprinting is facile, flexible, and conducive to mixing with a lot of other media such as painting and drawing. I can do bigger, more improvisational work. Litho is too complicated. Intaglio is not suitable, and I am not into the subtleties of letterpress. Andy Warhol’s choice of medium (the silkscreen) was part of his statement! Yes, monotypes are fun! I am a printmaker, but I love clay sculpture as much as anything. I love digital tools, too.”

Uhl goes on to praise the meditative moments in the physical process of working clay or in printmaking, the times “when you are working with machinery, or cranking a press, but your mind can wander to the content of the work, its meaning.” She also loves the surprises that can present themselves: “the serendipitous moments when you see something that works, but it is not the image you carried in your mind’s eye.”

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Ginney Uhl’s book entitled The Place Called Grandma.

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Images alternate with Uhl’s own poetry .

Uhl’s most recent book, The Place Called Grandma, is also autobiographical. In this case, it is a beautifully upholstered box, with twenty-one unbound prints alternating with the poetry, printed on half-size sheets of rag paper. The image on the cover is drawn from a quilt pattern, an evocation of the rural grandmother. The collection focuses on the memories of childhood visits to her grandmother’s house in the Southwest desert: the rides in a Volkswagen minibus full of christmas presents, six kids, the dog,”Baby,” and the family, the landscape, fights with her sister, food, weather, and special family members seen only at the reunions at Grandma’s. The poetry is again her own, written to capture the sensations and emotions that are a child’s experience of family holidays. To sharpen her craft as a poet, Uhl has been reading a lot of poetry and taking an online poetry course through Stanford University.

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A montage of images and memories of family in The Place Called Grandma

The images in the Grandma book are also created through printed layers of simple colored shapes, symbolic forms and photographic imagery from the family archives, most of which are worked and reworked in Photoshop or Illustrator before they become photo stencils on the silkscreen. The richness of the prints is partly due to an astounding number of layers of ink and imagery. Some of the prints are literal and nostalgic, and evoke, for baby-boomers, memories of the homes of our own grandmothers. Others are in response to some small element in the poetry that becomes the point of departure for more abstract imagery.

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Screen door squeaks open, bangs shut.

Circumambulating brats

chase and shriek from front to back.

 

L.A. babies, gray winters

pray for Christmas snow!

Never thick, short time to stick,

but bright and white for a while.

When asked what comes next, Uhl reveals a lot of plans and ideas. Before graduation with the MFA, she wants to take book making further, and she can imagine returning to painting and incorporating screenprinted imagery and/or poetry into the process. Ultimately, she would like to see her books published – perhaps digitally, perhaps through Chronicle Books which has an online application process. She might return to her experiences with clay to see if three dimensions and clay can mesh with book making. She cautions “It would have to fit the concept.” (She tried it before, and rejected the first attempts.)

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The ghost town’s neighbors;

Chiricahua’s pinnacles

Geronimo’s safe harbor.

Rugged and craggy escarpments

embrace the expansive skies.

 

A mining Mecca ,

long ago ruled by

his highness King Copper.

Mother Earth, today, reclaims

her melting clay Adobes.

After graduation, Uhl wants to get her last book up on her website. Then she feels she may be ready for “Prime Time” and her debut as a professional artist. From there it would be intriguing to be able to print in one of the Bay Area ateliers such as SF Electric Works (formerly Trillium Press) or the San Francisco Center for the Book. What topics would she investigate? Not surprisingly, to those of us who have heard Ginney’s opinions stated forthrightly during classroom critiques, she says, “I have social and political things to say, for instance, about social and economic inequities!”

Well informed and outspoken, Uhl cites statistics from the NY Times. “15,000 families in the US make .01% of the wealth in the country – about 9 million dollars each, per year. It’s just greed and theft and an unfair redistribution of wealth upward. It pisses me off. She continues, “The US subsidizes agribusiness and then dumps cheap corn, poultry and milk on poor countries in Latin America, putting local farmers out of business. When they realize they are permanently out of work, they try to immigrate to the US looking for work. But the US will not allow that!” Uhl concludes, “I am thinking about this, but I’m not sure yet how to articulate it visually.”

Ginney Uhl’s passions and drive spring from what she terms a passionate life. There is little doubt she will throw herself completely into her next endeavors. From the corporate world to art, she manages to live her journey intensely.

<vwestphal@aol.com>

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