BRATTLEBORO — Mitchell Giddings Fine Arts' current exhibit "Voices" on view now through Sept. 30, showcases a selection of monotype, collagraph, drypoint, etching and woodcut prints chosen from Zea Mays Printmaking's Flat File Project. The Flat File Project archives work by Zea Mays' studio members are for gallery owners and curators to view. Prints by Judith Bowerman, Lyell Castonguay, Liz Chalfin, Sarah Creighton, Anita Hunt, Lynn Peterfreund, Erika Radich, and Joyce Silverstone, were selected by Petria Mitchell, co-owner of MGFA, for the exhibit. Mitchell said she entitled the exhibit "Voices" because, "I was moved by the fact that printmaking has so much diversity, therefore opportunity for individual expression — that is why I chose 'Voices.' It celebrates and embraces the myriad techniques available to printmakers as an expressive medium."
Zea Mays Printmaking in Florence, Mass. was founded in 2000 by Liz Chalfin, a pioneer in practicing safe and sustainable printmaking practices. When asked to teach printmaking in an old gym with no ventilation, it prompted her to research non-toxic materials. She found non-toxic advocates are willing to share what they know, and she in turn, shared and learned with her students. This sparked a desire to start a studio with the same mantra. Zea Mays started with one press and three members, growing to over 100 members in a 6,000 square-foot facility of printmaking studios that offers workshops in green printmaking, residencies, internships, artist mentorships and contract printing services to an international community of artists.
"One of our goals is you don't have to sacrifice quality to maintain safety. After 20 years it's clear that is possible," Chaflin said, "This (exhibition) is a great opportunity to show and sell, in a gallery with a goal to sell our work. It is our first foray into Vermont."
Chosen from Chaflin's archives for "Voices," is "Accidental Stories," her recent series in etching, collage, and acrylic ink, work that she described on her website as cut up etchings, reconfigured and then painted to create new meanings.
Also in the show is the panorama, "Women in Ruins," photopolymer intaglio, a series of pieces created in the non-toxic etching process approach opposed to traditional intaglio using water-soluble light-sensitive plates. She wrote that as time and distance remove us from that direct experience of place, our memories change. We reshape the experience with exaggerated details and forgotten moments. The memory that is "etched in our mind" is often a fictitious construction of recollection, longing and selective amnesia.
Erika Radich finds the natural world her inspiration. Her "Unnatural Testimony" monotype series are recreated from phototypes of plants that will not die. As stated in her artist statement, it "is a series of prints that reflect my interpretation and reaction to a set of haunting images (taken as photograms by Anais Tondeur) of the flora around Chernobyl." It fascinated her that despite the radiation the plants persisted and lived.
She had worked in woodcuts and etching before discovering Zea Mays after it first opened. She took a class and loved it. "It was like taking off the skates and running free for me," she said. Learning to use the non-toxic approach she discovered she didn't have to give up etching and still produce high-quality work.
"I find the natural world fascinating. I hope people can connect to the natural world through my work," she said. "I think Petey and Jim have created a great piece of artwork. They really know what they are doing."
Joyce Silverstone's background as a painter and a practitioner of bodywork guides her in her approach to printmaking. Tuned in to those sensory connections provide her focus on texture, paper, and tools as she pursues her interest in printmaking in relief prints, carved plates, wood lithographs and collagraphs inspired by nature.
Even after 40 years of printing, when working with pressure, water and ink together she said she still has that moment, "I didn't know it was going to do that. It's being able to set up situations where the materials can speak. She hopes her art can bring a heightened sensitivity to the world, the way it feels, the way it comes together then falls apart."
She feels honored to be included in "Voices." "I love teaching and the camaraderie at the studio. I am happy I can be part of promoting Zea, a studio that works on generosity, sharing ideas and information."
Judith Bowerman's "Enigmatic Affinities" lithograph monoprints harbor metaphoric elements of nature such as roots twisted like minds or other botanical images that resonated with her. Bowerman described "Enigmatic Affinities" in her artist's statement as having "evolved out of a group of prints titled '"Were it Not for Shadows.' These earlier prints were generated in response to a being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2013. In that series, I explore and grapple with the uncertainties of life — more specifically, what happens when the nervous system goes awry. I extracted passages of text from articles about the brain and then manipulated them, layering words with images of twisted vines, gestural marks, and color to generate complexity and symbolism."
"Sometimes planned, sometimes serendipity, printmaking is like a game of chance," Bowerman said. "It is that game of chance, the unpredictable element, that I love about printmaking."
Bowerman also feels honored to be part of the show with other work that she admires. "This a wonderful opportunity for exposure to work created using non-toxic materials that is as good, if not better than, tradition materials. I love the exhibit that Petey chose. It is a beautiful show presenting the best from each printmaker."
Sarah Creighton's etching, monoprints "Absence" and "Leaving the World Behind," and monoprint, chine colle "Underworld" are imaginary landscapes. For "Underworld" she used an Asian technique of collage. "I combine photopolymer and soft ground etching processes, and chine colle with monoprints. These etching techniques allow me to transfer drawings and washes photographically from paper or Duralar directly to the plates, and chine colle offers a way to incorporate very thin, painted or dyed papers into my imagery. The color field transitions are monoprinted."
"I love the community of people there. Liz is incredibly supportive and encouraging." Creighton said. Shewas really pleased to have her pieces chosen. "I'm honored to be shown with the group of Zea Mays' artists. Their work is high quality and I'm happy that Liz is getting recognition for her work in green printing.
Lyell Castonguay has woodblock prints in the show. There is a common theme of birds in his prints showing at MGFA, although he said he has been shifting to landscapes and objects of human designs like airplanes of late. In his artist statement, he wrote that his animals are "made beholden with human emotions such as tension, conflict, restlessness, an uncertainty. These bold personalities are seemingly at odds with each subject's intrinsic wildness. The artist's distorted narratives often incorporate covert references to environmental decline, natural resource commodification, and displacement."
He works on a large scale, creating 8 to 12 pieces from the same blocks, creating different color intensities. Large scale printing magnifies registration issues. He has been doing this for 12 years and it always sends a curve ball, making things a challenge. "I like that challenge." He jokes, "I have a jig and a lot of finger crossing."
Anita Hunt's prints in etching, aquatint, and chine colle, on rag paper, are detailed images in black and white. In her artist statement she wrote, "Everything I make begins with direct observation, rather than with an idea or a concept. My inspirations are most often close to home, sometimes in my garden or just down the road. I latch onto small details — tree roots, weird rocks, puddles, reflections, odd shadows and most especially, sticks. Sticks are always trying to tell me something. These tiny specks in the landscape become my ephemeral landmarks. I watch them change and disappear. I document their passing.
"My recent work mourns the unraveling of nature. The piles of wood and stones, excavations and erosions suggest the aftermaths of floods. The puddles represent habitat islands created by environmental destruction. These images are elegies to what's been lost, but also express deep appreciation for the fragmented beauty that remains."
The multiple colors in each layer of Lynn Peterfreund's monotypes "Dangerous Crossing," "Blues" and "Ocean" are printed on dry paper using akua ink. She uses the soy-based ink in an effort to be less toxic. She said these prints have a sky theme. When she finishes one series she likes the ending to lead her into the next theme. Her earlier series was on crows flying in the sky. This series is the view the bird sees in the atmosphere. To her "Ocean" feels quiet and calming, an ongoing event, while "Blues" is very active, evokes complexity, also ongoing, and "Dangerous Crossing has an implied horizon with a figurative form, inspired by the refugee crisis, a specific event and a different narrative than the other two.
"I was excited when Petey chose my work to be in the exhibit. I have admired her gallery and have not shown in Brattleboro. She chose well from the artists, she knows her space, which pieces will look good where," Peterfreund said.
"Voices" will remain open through Sept. 30 at MGFA, 183 Main St., Brattleboro. Gallery hours are Wednesday through Monday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 802-251-8290, or visit mitchellgiddingsfinearts.com.
Cicely M. Eastman may be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 261