Crowd Pleasers

Two shows display a plethora of artistic styles.

Although Open Press is a printmaking shop rather than a gallery, it does present exhibits from time to time. The current show, 60/10 marks the tenth anniversary of the facility, hence the "10" in the exhibition's title. The "60" refers to the sixty artists who have had prints pulled by Open Press. This is slightly misleading, however, since not all of the artists are represented in the show.

Open Press is operated by Denver artist Mark Lunning, who serves as master printer. Lunning grew up in Westminster and studied fine art at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, where he specialized in drawing and art history. Lunning also developed an interest in printmaking and studied with Hin Shin, a Korean artist who taught briefly at UNC. "Hin Shin was very difficult -- he was a real ass, but I learned a lot from him," says Lunning, who also cites Lydia Rule as another important early influence from UNC. He describes Rule as "a fabulous teacher and a great artist."

Lunning came to Denver after his graduation in 1984 and began working as a sculptor. His relationship with the late, great Inkfish Gallery, which exhibited his work, lasted for a decade. In 1985 he joined the Pirate co-op, where he was a member for eight years and an associate member for two. Over the years, Lunning moved away from sculpture and toward printmaking, which he had always done to a limited extent. His skill at printmaking and the connections he made at Inkfish and Pirate helped his success when he started Open Press in 1989.

Detail from "Elementary Somatology," photograph by Eric Havelock-Bailie, at Rule Gallery.
Detail from "Elementary Somatology," photograph by Eric Havelock-Bailie, at Rule Gallery.
"Orion," monotype by Mark Friday, at Open Press.
"Orion," monotype by Mark Friday, at Open Press.

Lunning began modestly in the back room of the now long-gone Colors Gallery, at 1936 Market Street. He had one client, abstract painter Dale Chisman, who commissioned Lunning to create a series of monotypes. They were the first prints made by Open Press, but they gave Lunning a boost, because Chisman was already regarded as one of the top artists in the city.

In the early years, Lunning worked odd jobs to make ends meet. "I delivered artwork for various galleries and artists," he says, "I built shelves, painted walls -- I had to."

In 1993 Lunning met Kent Shira at the Denver Print Fair, which was held in the Tennis House of the Phipps Mansion. (Although the fair was an aesthetic success, it failed financially and was never held again.) Shira, who had helped organize the fair, and Lunning, an exhibitor, decided to team up. The next year they opened a glamorous space on Wazee Street's gallery row. Open Press was in the basement, and Shira's CSK Gallery -- which has since closed -- was on the ground floor. The idea was that Open Press would make the prints and CSK would sell them.

But what had seemed like a good match fell apart in 1995 as Lunning's easygoing style clashed with Shira's hard-driving business approach, Lunning says. "I came in late one day, and Kent's attitude toward me completely changed. Two weeks later he served me with divorce papers." Lunning is still bitter about the split.

After the breakup, Lunning took three months off just to think. "I could move away, I could change my life," he says. "I went camping a lot. And then, suddenly, I knew what I had to do -- I needed to get back to Open Press." It was four years ago this month that he restarted the print shop in its current location in the elevated basement of a nineteenth-century red-brick building in the Baker neighborhood. "At the time, I had a drying rack and one small litho press," he says. Things have changed considerably since then. Open Press now has several presses, and Lunning has two assistants, Liza Hubbell and Inga Clough, both of whom are accomplished printmakers in their own right. (Clough also teaches printmaking at the Colorado Institute of Art.) All three are represented in 60/10.

It would have been nice if Lunning had documented the history of Open Press in this show. Instead, he simply asked various artists to bring in something they'd done there. As a result, nearly everything is either brand-new or, at most, a couple of years old. There's no way for viewers to follow the development of Open Press as it expanded from the original monotypes to the later etchings and block prints.

But if Lunning isn't much good at history, he's terrific at attracting some of the region's best artists: The richly dense 60/10 is a veritable who's who of local talent. It is a skill that Lunning had since the beginning, when Chisman was his first client. Chisman is represented here by the monotype "Louie," from his 1996 "Jazz" series.

There are many other abstractionists here, including Steve Alarid, whose gorgeous untitled monotype from 1998 leads off the show. In this print, Alarid places a black circle in the center of a yellow, blue and red background. Nearby is another wonderful abstract, an untitled photo etching by Lynn Heitler. Heitler incorporates chine collé, in which bits of paper are permanently attached to the print. Other noteworthy abstractions include those by David Yust, Emilio Lobato, Myron Melnick, Homare Ikeda and Michael Duffy.

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