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Printmakers Embrace Tag-Team Art

April 7, 2002

Mary Ann Travis
Phone: 865-5714

mtravis@tulane.edu

Printmakers who carve, sponge, ink, press and do all the steps involved in making original prints need good hands. And sometimes a second pair of hands--and feet--are useful, too. Eight artists invited by Teresa Cole, the Ellsworth Woodward Professor of Art, to participate in printmaking demonstrations Saturday, April 6, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., will each have extra hands, loaned by Tulane art students who will assist the visiting artists that day.

While the artists will be happy for the help, for the students, "It's like the opportunity of a lifetime," says Cole.

Students will observe and assist the artists from across North America who have individual ways of working in different printing processes, including etching, intaglio, lithography, relief and screen printing. Some of the artists are exploring new printing processes such as waterless lithography and solar plates with which even Cole is unfamiliar.

The printmaking demonstrations--called Demographics 2002--are part of the Southern Graphics Council conference to be held in New Orleans April 3-6. Founded 30 years ago in New Orleans, the Southern Graphics Council has more than 1,500 members internationally. More than 750 are expected to attend the conference. The printmaking demonstrations are open to the public.

They'll be at three locations--the printmaking studio in the Newcomb Art Building; Loyola University Art Building; and the New Orleans School of Glassworks and Printmaking, 727 Magazine St., in downtown New Orleans.

The imagery the artists will create will be based loosely on the conference theme--Print Gumbo. Cole expects "print improvisation," similar to jazz music improvisation, to happen as the artists collaborate on 200 pieces of paper. The artists won't simply print their own images on separate pieces of paper but multiple artists will print layers of images on the same sheet of paper.

Not only will the printmakers at each location collaborate, the artists at the different sites will collaborate when Tulane art students shuttle the printed paper from site to site all day Saturday. To bring attention to the project, students wearing "Demographics" T-shirts that they have designed and silk-screen printed, will ride the St. Charles Avenue streetcar as they transport the prints in vividly decorated portfolio cases.

"It will be like a tag team that will constantly rotate during the day," says Cole. "It's going to be a little free form," adds Cole, understating the potential for chaos in this "interesting experiment." But Cole is confident the project will work because she says printmakers in general are collaborators. "We're so used to working in communal shops. I think thereis a certain democratic aspect to people who work in print just because we are so dependent on facilities."

Cole received a Newcomb Foundation Grant to support the Demographics 2002 project. By the end of the day Saturday, Cole expects 25 to 30 of the prints to be worthy of display at Glassworks that evening. Other action at the Newcomb Art Building of the Woldenberg Art Center of Newcomb College on Saturday will be a 1 p.m. reception at the Carroll Gallery.

The reception will celebrate three exhibitions at the gallery: "Taboo X," an exchange portfolio of 42 printmakers, including Cole; "James Steg," a memorial exhibit of work by the longtime Newcomb art professor; and "Demographics 2001," prints that were made collaboratively at last year's Southern Graphics Council conference in Austin, Texas.

Cole serves as curator of the James Steg exhibition. Steg was her predecessor as printmaking professor in the Newcomb Art Department. He taught from 1951 to 1991. Steg died in 2001, and Cole had been looking for the right time and venue to honor him. Cole herself is adept in several printmaking processes, but lately she's primarily been doing relief work with block prints.

Although printmaking requires good hands, nimble fingers and a strong back, the artistry is not all in the process. It's also in the imagery and the content. In Cole's recent work, she deals with the idea of hybrids. Sometimes she couples humans and plants. For example, she created one print of a woman with plant roots emanating from her legs.

Cole is intrigued with the "whole idea of genetic engineering and genetic splicing," which she finds exciting but also scary. In her art, she asks, "What are we getting ourselves into?"

Mary Ann Travis can be reached at mtravis@tulane.edu.

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