Before taking on Prints From Shark’s Ink, a landmark offering among the Mo’Print festivities and looking at the history of that renowned print atelier, I want to recall those halcyon days of yore, by which I mean the first part of last week.
It was then that I made my way to Michael Warren Contemporary, because I knew I had to catch this exhibit. Gallery director Mike McClung was surprised to see me: The city was already getting quiet and the sidewalks along Santa Fe Drive deserted. As soon as I walked in the door, McClung offered me some hand sanitizer. This was only a few days before most of the area’s art venues started announcing that they were closing immediately in response to the spreading COVID-19 pandemic.
Standing six feet away from each other at all times, McClung told me that his email had been filling up with notifications about canceled meetings, panels and luncheons, and he wondered if anyone would even be willing to come to the gallery to see the Shark's show. It’s an important exhibit, and it had taken a lot of effort to put it together, and while the opening had been well attended, few people had come in since, he said.
I was wondering the same thing, and told him that I was also wondering if I should be reviewing art shows at all. “You’ve got to do it," he interjected. "Your column is the only way most people will even know about it, whether they’re able to see it or not."
If today seems a lot different from last week at this time, imagine how different it was in Boulder in the 1970s, when Bud and Barbara Shark bounced into town from London, moving there only because Barbara’s sister lived in Boulder. Bud had already acquired some heavy-duty résumé lines related to printmaking, having worked with important British printers and done a stint at Tamarind, then in Los Angeles. But those meant nothing in Boulder back then, and he did odd jobs like sign painting before opening a storefront printshop in 1976. The enterprise took off almost immediately.
For the past 44 years, Shark’s Ink, which is now in Lyons, has been producing fine-art prints by both internationally famous artists and many of the finest artists to have worked in Colorado. Through the decades, Bud and Barbara set aside examples of the prints that their workshop produced, along with thousands of related materials. This treasure trove, called the Sharkive, was acquired by the CU Art Museum in 2018; the Sharks had assembled it through the years with the University of Colorado in mind as its eventual repository.
The Shark prints at Michael Warren represent a wide range of techniques done at Shark’s, including lithography and monotypes incorporating metal leaf, chine-collé and embossing. Regardless of how it's done, Shark’s work invariably reveals the highest level of production values.
Among the pieces by Colorado masters is “Summer Home,” a color lithograph by the late Betty Woodman. Best known for her ceramic sculptures, Woodman was equally adept at working two-dimensionally, as seen in this print. It depicts a table set with Woodman’s abstract figural vessels set at an odd angle to the room’s walls. The cheery colors and the colliding vantages of perspective recall the sensibility of the giants of early modernism, such as Picasso and Matisse.
An interesting resonance occurs between this Woodman print and the print hanging next to it, "Pitcher and Pineapple," by New Yorker Robert Kushner, done in monotype with collage. The relationship is more than coincidental, since Kushner, who has collaborated with Shark's since the 1980s, used as dominant elements of his still life fluid renderings of a ceramic pitcher and bowl made in clay by none other than Woodman. Kushner was a pioneer of the pattern and decoration movement, but he’s focused on still-life compositions often including flowers or, in this case, fruit, for decades.
Claire Sherman, another New Yorker, is represented by a sensational, oversized rendition of a wispy evergreen tree in a dreamy color lithograph. Her drafting style is expressive, and her marks have an abstract quality. The show also includes Sherman's simplified, straight-on view of a waterfall in a color lithograph with chine collé.
Teresa Booth Brown’s “Jacket Bag Dress Watch Ring” and “Ultimate Metallic Suit” flattens found imagery from magazines, turning them into variegated color fields. Brown assembles these blocks of forms and colors into constructivist patterns. For these pieces, Brown had Shark employ color lithography with digital collage and chine collé to produce prints that perfectly align with her signature mixed-media collages.
One of the show's strongest passages is the lineup of a trio of Rodney Carswell color lithographs. The compositions are geometric, both precise and off-kilter. For instance, the circumference line of the sphere in “Orbelus” is slightly wavy, almost blob-like, which is effectively counteracted by the straight lines that fill the space within it. Carswell is a New Mexico artist who attended CU, where he studied with George Woodman. (As far as I can tell, Carswell was not part of Criss-Cross, a collective of geometric abstractionists in Boulder during the time he was there, but looking at his work, he sure could have been.)
As a chaser to the Shark salute, a group show in the back gallery highlights pieces by the artists represented by Michael Warren. The first thing you notice is the big red floor sculpture by Robert Mangold, the dean of modern sculpture in Colorado. It’s one of his “PTTSAES” sculptures, in which steel tubes zig and zag following the imaginary trajectory of a point bouncing off invisible forces. The large sculpture is set in the middle of the room with a painting by Jeff Horton hanging beyond it. The diagonals of the sculpture link up to the similar lines of the skeleton of structural elements in the painting.
There’s also a marvelous painting of an abandoned storefront with missing signage by Sharon Feder. Stylistically, it’s a cross between a contemporary-realist street scene and a constructivist abstract. Feder’s complex picture-making compresses the three-dimensional illusion into intersecting planes. Her use of color is astounding, mostly a range of naturalistic shades for the sky and trees, set off by the white and yellow of the buildings.
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Heidi Jung also makes work that’s a hybrid of realism and abstraction. In an untitled piece on paper, sprays of leaves overlap each other all over the picture's composition. The realistic leaves are carried out to different levels of detail, with some nothing more than vaporous and ghostly versions.
With a dark cloud floating not just over the art world but the entire world, such work can make things brighter, even if only for a bit.
Prints From Shark’s Ink, through March 28, Michael Warren Contemporary, 760 Santa Fe Drive, 303-635-6255, michaelwarrencontemporary.com. Call to check for hours before going to the gallery.