Heather Huston received her MFA in printmaking from the University of Alberta in 2006 and currently works as an instructor at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary. She has exhibited nationally and internationally and has recently shown her work at the 2011 Biennale Internationale d'Estampe Contemporaine de Trois-Rivieres and the V Splitgraphic: International Graphic Art Biennial 2011 (Croatia). Her work is the collection of several major institutions including the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University. Her work is based on miniatures, the everyday and trying to find interesting structures in cookie-cutter neighborhoods.
Prints Connecting People I wish to thank the organizers of the 3rd Qijiang International Print Festival and Mr Yili Li for hosting us. Thank-you as well to Wuon Gean Ho for all her hard work in liasing with myself and other artists from abroad. I’m very excited to be here discussing ideas and techniques with fellow printmakers and artists.
My name is Heather Huston and I teach printmaking and drawing at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I also serve as the president on the board of the Alberta Printmakers’ Society, a local artist-run center dedicated to printmaking. One of the earliest draws for me in print, besides of course the aesthetic potential, was the sharing nature of printmaking. From very early on in my education, I began to participate in portfolio exchanges in which every artist produces a print for every other participant and receives a print from each in return. Suddenly, I was collecting the work of artists that I admired and these artists were also seeing my work. Printmakers would visit the university and we would help them print editions, catching a glimpse of their process and often sharing the prints in the end. It was an exciting introduction to an art form that allows even young artists a participatory role and a relationship with mentors.
Since its early days, printmaking has been an affordable and connective art form. Artists have used it as a way to disseminate their work and collectors in turn were pleased that they could (and still can) afford the prints of great artists. Rembrandt, for example, built his own international reputation through his etchings rather than his paintings although it would not be until the 1880s that this became a common way for artists to work. The invention of the camera shifted the role of print from an art form used primarily for book illustration to an engaging art form worth pursuing on its own. Prints continue to be a way for artists to share their work amongst many and contemporary artists have evolved this tradition in new ways and continue to use printmaking to connect to people. The idea of the multiple, the unique technical appeal of printmaking, and the affordable nature of print media have allowed artists to connect to people in innovative ways. Contemporary artists continue to pursue ways of combining new and traditional techniques but also pushing the boundaries of presentation and connection that print makes possible.
Some contemporary print artists look to the way that the nature of the print as multiple can express ideas of generosity and inclusion. Felix Gonzalez Torrez for example produced unlimited print editions that are stacked in the gallery and visitors are encouraged to pull off a copy for themselves for free. He advised ideal heights for his stacks which are to be replenished as prints are taken thus ensuring an unlimited edition. For him, the works allowed his ideas to be free and connect intimately with the public but also, metaphorically, his work speaks to renewal as the project can live on in perpetuity and continue to connect to audiences in a direct way wherever and whenever it is shown.
Lisa Bulawsky created a project called The Blind Spot gallery where she produced prints on magnets that were stuck to her minivan, which she would then drive around. The idea of this project was to use the tradition of print and the nature of the multiple to allow people to take the prints from the van and place them elsewhere or take them home. She is attracted to the idea of plurality and connection that can be achieved with the multiple.
Swoon is a New York-based artist who, in one aspect of her practice, prints large linocuts in her apartment and then wheat-pastes them up around her neighborhood and the city. Her work takes prints out of the gallery setting and into the street where many can appreciate her work, even those for whom the gallery seems foreign. Her prints become part of the palimpsest of the city and erode as time passes.
The very tools, techniques and materials of print are appealing to artists and laypeople alike as they connect to the past, tradition and the handmade. Though printmakers embrace and utilize new technologies, they do not discard the old ones. New technologies add to rather than replace ways of working. It is appealing to use a press or cut a block of wood in the same fashion that an artist hundreds of years ago would have done. Printmaking connects artists to history.
Drive By Press utilizes the appeal of print technology to connect to people all across North America but with a rock and roll twist. They started their current project as graduate students when they decided to load a van with a press, some tools and a lot of woodblocks. They began to drive across the USA, printing images and t-shirts for people wherever they went. They began to amass a large print collection by trading with artists that they met while traveling and left a large amount of work in their wake in the hands of artists, fans and people who were simply curious. By revealing the process of printing by creating a print or t-shirt right in front of the viewer, these artists allow people to connect directly to the work that they are buying, watching the magic of a print being pulled fresh from the press. The print has the opportunity to become more than just a commodity, it becomes a reminder of a creative moment, an inside joke that the viewer was privy to. The mystery of the making is theirs to have and remember.
Further to this we find artists and collectives looking for opportunities to bring people into the studio to create prints of their own to allow them to personally connect to the thrill of seeing marks and stencils become works of art. Since print mediates drawings, marks and images through some sort of matrix be it a piece of copper, plastic, stone, or screen, there is the thrill of seeing something that you did be transformed and reappear in another format. Our local print-based artist-run center in Calgary, the Alberta Printmakers’ Society, runs an annual festival in September called PIY (which stands for Print it Yourself). Our studio opens to the public for a weekend and people are invited to try out several different print processes such as drypoint, silkscreen and monoprint. People have the opportunity to explore different art forms, to connect to the processes and can either be inspired to learn a new technique or to better appreciate how a print is made.
Prints have the great privilege of being an art form that is accessible yet magical at the same time. The great varieties of techniques create endless opportunities for exploration and moments of excitement despite times of frustration. Printmaking continues to be an art form rooted in tradition where artists respect the past but don’t feel constrained by it.