One of the great art soap operas of the past year has been the acrimonious split between Open Press, the respected printmaking outfit, and CSK Gallery, one of the newer kids on Wazee Street. Since December 1993, the printmaker and the gallery had been joined at the hip, sharing the same LoDo address, with the ground-floor gallery touting itself as the "venue" for the basement printmaker. The partnership soured, however, and was hastily severed in May.
And it took until last month for Open Press to get back on its feet in a new home--once again in a basement. To inaugurate the space, just off South Broadway on West Bayaud Street, master printer Mark Lunning has organized the exhibit Open Press: 7th Anniversary Show.
Though the artists included in this presentation make up only the briefest survey of those who have printed at Open Press over the last seven years, they cover a wide array of styles--from representational to abstract and everything in between. Most of them, in fact, have nothing in common other than their association with Open Press.
Among the standouts in the realm of representational work are two famous local practitioners, Joellyn Duesberry and Patti Cramer, and a relative newcomer, Beatriz Pestana.
Duesberry presents two Western landscapes that show off her skill at conveying a scene with a minimum of detail, the way the impressionists did. And like the impressionists, Duesberry is a master colorist, employing only the quietest and most delicate hues. Cramer takes a notably different approach in "Brunch," a monotype that incorporates bold colors. The piece recalls Cramer's delightful "Overheard Conversations" cartoons, which once graced these pages. A delicate black line conveys an urbane and elegant scene of two ladies at a restaurant, a mustachioed waiter scurrying around behind them. Pestana, using pale colors outlined in black, displays a self-portrait and nudes in a still life, both of which recall the great Mexican mural tradition. Like Duesberry and Cramer, Pestana is an artist worth watching.
The abstractionists who've created noteworthy work at Open Press include the dean of regional abstraction, Dale Chisman, along with other big guns such as Homare Ikeda and Alan Kempkes.
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Chisman is chiefly known for his paintings, but he has long demonstrated his prowess in printmaking. As with his paintings, the two prints included here--"Reflections" and "Goddess"--set up a tension between the linear and the gestural pictorial elements he employs. In "Reflections," the inks have been blended like paint, while in "Goddess" they're laid on in fine lines like a drawing. Ikeda's prints are also closely related to his very familiar paintings; organic forms predominate, including dense arrangements of spirals and circles that have been printed and then supplemented with pencil and crayon. Sculptor Kempkes presents three wall reliefs in which his prints are but one element. The collographs are little more than a few strokes of color set against the base paper's white field; what really catches the eye is the fact that, in each of them, the paper has been attached with bent and rusty nails to a dirty piece of painted pegboard. That board, in turn, has been attached to a sheet of Masonite, and laid over the print is a broken piece of glass that only partly covers it.
Also featured in the exhibit are several pillars of the alternative scene who create prints in styles closely associated with that world--namely surrealism and neo-expressionism. Steve Walker and Reed Weimer, for instance, use simplified depictions of actual items to produce work that is at once representational and abstract. Walker's monotype "Gallery" was executed at a former incarnation of Open Press (prior to its CSK days) but has never before been exhibited. It incorporates Walker's characteristic cartoon-like approach, but, unexpectedly for him, it takes a monochromatic approach to what in this case are views of paintings and sculptures. Weimer, meanwhile, continues his interest in recalling the graphic design of the 1950s with a simple, conventionalized fish made of geometric white lines against a field of black. His meticulous craftsmanship is apparent in the crisp, clean divisions between the formal elements.
CSK director Kent Shira has said that the basic problem with the partnership between his gallery and Open Press was that master printer Lunning too often used the facilities to make work by his friends. As this show clearly demonstrates, Shira was absolutely right. But the rub is obvious: Among Lunning's friends are some of the city's best known and most respected contemporary artists.