Mo’ Print: Month of Printmaking 2018 is back for more, with shows around metro Denver. This is the third iteration of the printmaking celebration; the first was organized in 2014 by the Invisible Museum, which wanted to come up with a print festival to alternate with another, established spring biennial, the Month of Photography. The moving force behind MoP was photographer Mark Sink, and Mo’ Print was sparked by another artist: Mark Lunning, the master printer at Open Press.
Lunning is credited as curator of the epically if prosaically titled Master Printmakers and Print Educators in Colorado, now on view at the McNichols Building, but he bristles at this characterization. Although the show at McNichols is based on one that Lunning did two years ago at Space Gallery, making him the curator-by-proxy, he points out that he did not select the pieces included here; a committee of Invisible Museum volunteers did. Curation by committee of a show while using someone else’s idea hardly sounds like a formula for exhibition success, but strangely enough, it was. Even more amazing is the fact that there’s no overarching theme, with nearly two dozen artists brought together solely on the basis of their shared profession, not because of any stylistic affinities. Each is represented by multiple examples of printmaking techniques, so it’s a very ambitious endeavor.
Representing Open Press, Lunning shows a pair of large abstracts in his characteristic retro-futurist style of simple linear shapes stacked in clusters on top of one another. These works reveal Lunning’s technical facility, combining different methods in the same print — the etching, monoprint and chine collé seen in “Relevant Figures,” for example. Also going somewhat retro is the soft constructivism of Sue Oehme’s pair of watercolor montages, made up of hard-edged shapes of various descriptions. Oehme is master printer at her namesake Oehme Graphics in Steamboat Springs.
As indicated by Lunning and Oehme’s pieces, abstraction is one of the main currents in this show. James Dormer, an artist who teaches at Colorado State University, is an abstract master who’s been at it for years. His lithographs feature dense skeins of spattered and smudged marks and bars in all-over compositions; though one includes some color, both are predominantly black, and they are very elegant as a result. Also choice is the quartet of non-objective prints combining monoprint with five-color lithography by the Art Gym Denver’s Gregory Santos. Two have looping strokes of color stacked horizontally, the other two have linear elements dissolving into their speckled grounds. They command the wall and catch your eye from across the room.
Taking a sci-fi-ish approach to would-be abstraction are the marvelous lithographs with screen printing by Ashley Nason from Metropolitan State University of Denver. Their outer-space vibe of erector set legs and Jacob’s Ladder-type contraptions are carried out in an utterly icy palette of super-cool grays accented by black and white.
Another predominating current is representational imagery, done in a range of ways. Printmaking can be a labor-intensive pursuit requiring significant technical skills, which is probably why it attracts artists who revel in the effort it takes to produce meticulous depictions. A good example of that is the woodcut “Tapestry,” by Jean Gumpper from Colorado College, in which beautifully rendered, lyrical leaves, branches and flowers fill the picture plane. Similarly fastidious is “Grasslands,” by Theresa Haberkorn from the Art Students League of Denver; the flowers and prairie grasses have been carried out beautifully in woodcut, mixed media and collage.
The prints by Regis University’s Tony Ortega, though representational, are much more pop in character. Over the past few years, Ortega has taken off from his classic Chicano art style, using it as a source to create conceptual pieces, such as “La Marcha de Che Lincoln.” In this silkscreen, Ortega has altered Lincoln’s face on the statue at the Lincoln Memorial so that it resembles that of Che Guevara, with a crowd of Ortega’s conventionalized Chicanos in the foreground.
Another Mo’ Print show is at Space Gallery, which was the program’s headquarters last round. Titled Informed — Print as an Influence, it’s a major offering with an unusual twist: prints seen in the context of works in other mediums. While abstraction is a principal component of the show at the McNichols, it’s the whole story here.
Each of the eight artists included has a separate section, where mini-solos have been mounted. The show starts in the entry spaces with new works by Monroe Hodder, whose style has been rapidly changing. These latest works are pretty vaporous, with all-over linear patterns either on top, as in the paintings, or integral, as in the prints. Beyond them is a large selection of watercolors and prints by Oehme; like the pieces at McNichols, they expand on ideas about building an expressive geometry.
In the main space around the corner is Taiko Chandler’s Tyvek installation. Chandler has printed and cut the plastic and folded it so that it comes out from the wall, and adjacent to it are some of her swoopy and richly colored monoprints. Across from those are color-field paintings by Patricia Aaron, each with a running drip down the front, paired with prints picking up the same forms.
Works by two artists — Diane Cionni and Pattie Lee Becker — that really resonate with one another are on view in the corner. Both do prints and works on paper and share an interest in dense, layered and complex arrangements of a multitude of individual components. In Cionni’s case, the components themselves are complex: Mosaic patterns, zigzags, spots and meandering bars are tightly arranged, overlapping in places, with the resulting arrangement floating in the middle of the white field of the paper. Becker’s imagery runs edge to edge, with shapes evocative of nature filling every possible place.
Upstairs on the mezzanine are pieces by a pair of artists that also go well together. Wendy Kowynia creates grids from threads while Connie Saddlemire uses loose, bold gestures to make patterns, but they both share a taste for earthy shades and simple, or at least regular, compositions in prints and works on paper.
When this edition of Mo’ Print leaves, so will Lunning. Like Pirate, Edge, Next and others, Open Press is being forced out of its longtime home by rising rents on its space in an old building on Bayaud Avenue. Lunning has invested heavily in the expensive equipment he needs to run a print atelier, so he’s never been able to afford to buy a building. Realizing it will never be possible to get something in Denver with its stratospheric real estate prices, he made the somewhat radical decision to relocate to Sterling, where he picked up a cool, mid-century modern building for relative peanuts. Appropriately enough, since the building originally housed the town newspaper’s offices and plant, printing is in its DNA...just as it is in Lunning’s.
Master Printmakers and Print Educators in Colorado, through April 8, McNichols Building, 144 West Colfax Avenue, 720-865-5550, mcnicholsbuilding.com.
Informed — Print as Influence, through April 7 at Space Gallery, 400 Santa Fe Drive, 303-993-3321, spacegallery.org.