Printmaking CCA

Printmakers mix modern themes with ancient art form

on September 7, 2014

Inspiration hit printmaker Lisa Mathis while she was standing in line at the grocery store. Browsing magazines, she was taken aback by headlines like “What Men Prefer Women Wear on Dates” and “Are Psychics the New Dating Gurus?”

“I look at a lot of older advertising while sourcing my collage materials, and the messages geared toward women 60 years ago are really similar to what we are expected to adhere to in modern times,” she said. “I think it’s sad that these are the messages women are getting and that it’s coming from us—from women’s magazines.”

So Mathis, a senior at the California College of the Arts, channeled this frustration into inspiration for her printmaking, which is on display until September 12 at the Isabelle Percy West Gallery on the college’s Oakland campus, along with work by five fellow printmakers. The 19th annual Yozo Hamaguchi Printmaking Scholarship Awards Exhibition highlights work by exceptional printmaking students.

Mathis scanned vintage photographs of women, or images from magazines and books, into Photoshop to create the digital designs that she would use for her prints. “I’d have a vague idea of what the final product would be all along, but a lot of the designs were improvised along the way,” she said. Once she had her design, she would screen print it onto Plexiglas, using a metal frame with fabric stretched over it. For some of her pieces, several layers of Plexiglas printed with different images are displayed in a shadowbox frame, allowing the viewer to see through multiple layers at once. In one of her pieces, a 1950s-era raven-haired beauty with perfectly arched eyebrows and full painted lips looks down as hands come at her from different directions, offering pills. The title is taken straight from words Mathis clipped from a magazine: “Love in the Time of Xanax.”

Mathis’ work helped her earn the printmaking scholarship, which allots $3,000 toward the tuition of each recipient. This year the other winners were Lukaza Branfman-Verissimo, Samuel Forrest Alderson, Angel Perez, Alexandra Phelps and Samantha Thompson.

The winners were selected by a panel of three jurors, David Salgado, who has been a collaborative printmaker and publisher of many Bay Area artists, Carole Jeung, a painter and printmaker on the college’s faculty, and Mikae Hara, a former student who lives in Osaka, Japan but travels to Oakland every year as the liaison to the Hamaguchi Endowment.

Michelle Murillo, co-chair of the college’s printmaking program, says that printmaking is not one process, it’s a set of five diverse print media. These include screen-printing, book arts, relief printmaking, in which the protruding surface faces of the printing plate are inked and pressed firmly on the paper to make the print, and its opposite, intaglio, in which the incised area of the etching or carving holds the ink, and lithography, which involves drawing onto a stone or metal plate with something greasy, then using acid and Gum Arabic to “burn” the image onto the stone. Many printmakers now use hybrid forms, combining modern techniques with traditional ones that were created over 1,000 years ago in China, said Murillo. “Today, contemporary printmaking is a fusion of history and innovation,” she said.

This innovation is evident when viewing the students’ work—not only by Mathis’ modern themes, but in the look and feel of work such as Alderson’s lithographic print, “Helen #3,” on display at the exhibit. In it, we see a hauntingly beautiful depiction of a young woman in various stages of movement. Various shades of the rich black roll-up ink contrast with the white in the paper. The subject’s long willowy fingers softly touch the edge of the print, as if trying to escape her ghostly surroundings.

Alderson, who won the scholarship as a freshman, said he purposely utilizes modern technology in his printmaking. Alderson videotaped his subject, Helen, as she walked through a cemetery. “I had her do a choreographed walk that we had rehearsed through the gravestones, and I followed her in a certain way to capture the moves that I wanted,” he said. “I used frames from the video to create the photo montage.”  

Like many printmakers, Alderson’s process includes using a mirror to reflect the image, such as a photograph or painting, that he is planning to etch into the limestone plate. The mirror is needed because the image must be etched backwards, so that the lithographic press can create the print. Even words and lettering must be drawn backwards, as if they were reflected in a mirror. Drawing onto the limestone can be done using any type of greasy medium, anything from a chicken bone to a black crayon.  The printmaker applies acid that “burns” the grease onto the limestone, then uses Gum Arabic to seal off the non-greasy areas.

“There’s a lot of chemistry involved, “said Murillo. “It’s kind of magical.”

The prints are on display through September 12 at the Isabelle Percy West Gallery, California College of the Arts, Oakland Campus. Click here for directions.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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