Alda Escareño; Quatro Hermanas; 2008, screenprint on fabric
By Kerry Freek
From FADO to 640 480 to Exploding Motor Car to Team Macho (the list goes on), Toronto’s art scene (past, present, and hopefully future) contains an astounding number of talented, relevant, and productive artist collectives. One such group, the newly formed inPrint Collective, is focusing on promoting printmaking in the city.
This Saturday, they’re holding a benefit to raise funds for a community printmaking centre that fosters an eco-friendly, cooperative, and encouraging environment and serves as a link between emerging artists, local galleries, and printmaking spaces.
Educated at York University, Alda Escareño began with one class in screen-printing that evolved into a full-fledged obsession with all paper and print arts. Her experience has taken her to new printmaking studios, including the Pratt Center for Fine Arts in Seattle, where she’s temporarily located. (She’s returning to Toronto soon.) Maaike Bouhuyzen-Wenger, also a York graduate, is interested in the fusion of visual and written work, as well as sculpture, fairy tales, and medicine. She’s currently working on a project about an artist known only by a pseudonym.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Alda and Maaike about printmaking and the benefits of being part of a collective.
Maaike Bouhuyzen-Wenger; The Tramp Printer Etches her Plate; #8/9, 2008, lithograph
Hi, ladies. Let’s talk about printmaking. How does this medium serve you best?
AE: I love everything about print. I could talk about the paper, the ink, the versatility of the medium, but it’s the printing process that is unique to printmaking that I enjoy most. I’m referring to the ability to work alongside other artists in a community studio. I find I’m most creative when I see other creating. Seeing other printmakers work inspires me and challenges me to create more. You can print on your own, but then you’d be missing the best part of printing.
MBW: Printmaking is an amazing medium. I’m interested in the written word as well, and bookmaking is inherently related to printmaking as a process. As a medium, printmaking is incredibly flexible, creating everything from very loose, flowing drawings to very industrial and crisp images. The step-by-step processes and repetitive nature of printmaking is another thing that has attracted me. Even a simple, single-layer print has such a process behind it. I find the methods that go into creating anything like this to be both very relaxing and meditative and incredibly frustrating at the same time. My favourite print method, lithography, is very chemical-based; the scientific side of it is one thing that attracts me. Lithography works by desensitizing parts of a limestone to water, and then using that to roll an oil-based ink over the sensitized parts without blackening the desensitized areas.
Alda Escareño; Vital Signs; 2008, lino-cut artist book
Alda, your printed dolls, hand-sewn books, and scissor portraits point to an appreciation for craft. And your five steps for the Nuit Blanche 35 Steps project were participation-, “making-”, and craft-centric. What attracts you to craft?
AE: My interest in craft evolved out of my love of print and all things handmade. Craft is something comfortable to me; it’s something I associate with home and tradition. It’s something safe but also deeply political. You don’t have to look far to see the growing craft movement. This is a movement of people that know how to make things themselves, who don’t need to buy everything. Crafts encourage learning and go hand in hand with teaching others. They are also environmentally friendly. I like that crafts are so powerful, yet they are often underestimated.
Maaike-tell us about the Tramp Printer. I’m intrigued!
The first run of Tramp Printer, showing most of the edition. Maaike Bouhuyzen-Wenger, 2008.
MBW: The Tramp Printer comes about from a few different sources. It was inspired by a book called The Tramp Printer, printed in a limited edition back in the 1930s. It was about a bum who wandered around from printing press to printing press, selling his talent at typesetting for a bottle of whiskey, followed by a strong shot of kerosene to cure the hangover. The title, however, evoked a different image altogether – a pin-up girl printing. And since I had a bit of space on a litho stone, I just went with it. Printmaking is an incredibly chemical and somewhat industrial process, so the juxtaposition of girls tottering on heels and dressed up was a really funny one. Until fairly recently, I think printmaking has also been a very “male” occupation; in part because it was “serious” work – originally about publishing books and newspapers instead of being an art form, and also because it is a very time-consuming and expensive medium to participate in. Only recently have older forms of printmaking become outdated and obsolete to professional worlds, and has opened up to artists – and with a few changes to society’s rules, female artists also. While the tramp printers aren’t meant to be overly political, they are meant to stand as a juxtaposition to the very “manly” history of printmaking. Most of all, the tramp printers are set up to act as an in-joke to printmakers; they tackle some of the most dangerous, precise, and messy things that printmakers must do in completely inappropriate attire. I tried to create a different type of “tramp” for each print; the first in the series is supposed to look like a classic Betty Boop (only more human) sort of character. The next three are more modern but every bit as stereotypical: a wet t-shirt girl, a revealing evening gown, and a gothic cat-ears girl.
Maaike Bouhuyzen-Wenger; The Tramp Printer Grains her Stone; #8/9, 2008, lithograph
How did inPrint begin? How did you become a part of the collective?
AE: inPrint came together in the last few weeks of our last year in the York print media program. Like most graduating students, we had trouble visualizing what came next. We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to find a similar space to that of the studio we all loved and we also were unsure as to what we could do with everything we had learned. Having worked together for so many years it only seemed natural to try to do something together. The inPrint Studio and collective is what came out of this moment.
MBW: Originally, we talked about it as a studio for ourselves, and then considered how many other recently graduated students were likely in the same predicament as we were. Although Toronto has a print studio already – Open Studio – it alone cannot handle all the printmakers in Toronto. We also wanted to create a space where we could get together with other artists and discuss and encourage art-making.
Why is it important for you to be part of a collective? What are the benefits? What are your goals as a group?
Alda Escareño; Let 'er buck; 2008, lino-cut
AE: inPrint is the kind of initiative that will support you as an artist but will also help you to grow. We don’t have a studio yet, and we are already learning every step of the way. We want to create a space for printmakers to work and learn from each other. A place where they can collaborate with other artists and get involved in how the studio is run. When it’s finally set up, we’ll have the studio and a space to feature the work being made. We are working to create the kind of space we were looking for when we graduated.
MBW: It is important to create support groups for artists – making art for a living is a difficult thing to do, especially considering today’s current cultural cutbacks. Toronto’s art scene seems very dog-eat-dog vicious, and by banding together, we feel like we can help support ourselves and other emerging artists as we all try to put ourselves out there. We’re hoping to start holding juried shows to promote young artists, and as soon as we have an up-and-running space, we’ll encourage printmaking by offering space for printmakers to practice, as well as holding printmaking classes for people who’d just like to learn how. And, of course, we’d like to run a printmaking studio that operates in as green a manner as possible.
Join inPrint this weekend! Hard Pressed to Print takes place this Saturday, January 17 at The Cameron House (408 Queen Street West). Doors at 9pm, cover $10. Featuring the musical support of Ten Thousand Creatures and Benhur, Kendal Thompson, Jeremy Gontier, and Scotty Stiles.