We may live in a post-print, digital world, but our ability to so widely distribute writing and visual ideas is due to the invention of various forms of printing. While digital technology has surpassed analogue printing techniques as the premier form of informational communication (when was the last time you received a printed invitation that wasn’t for a wedding, in contrast to the constant stream of Facebook evites), printed matter nonetheless holds a crucial place within the graphic arts, historically, aesthetically, and even politically. For those looking to enhance their knowledge of various print forms—or simply revel in a lively collection of works by 26 Detroit-area print artists—set a course for the Scarab Club, where a group exhibition, The Printer’s Devil, opened on August 3rd and will run through the 27th.
The show was curated by graphic designer and illustrator Stephen William Schudlich, who cultivated relationships with many local print artists through his work teaching Illustration and Graphic Design at College for Creative Studies and at Wayne State University for more than 10 years. “In this time, I have met many skilled artists of all kinds and mediums, both within the institutions as well as in the communities that surround them,” said Schudlich.
The show’s line-up includes powerhouse prints artists associated with organizations, such as Lynne Avadenka, Director of the popular Eastern Market letterpress studio Signal Return; Bayard Kurth III and Stacey Malasky—among the co-founding members of the scrappy Midtown community screenprint studio, Ocelot Print Shop; and Publisher/Editor of Rotland Press, artist Ryan Standfest. Also on display are independent operators, for whom printing is just one of many mechanisms by which their art and ideas enters the world, for example painter, illustrator, and cartoonist Michael Eugene Burdick.
“Many of these printers are individuals who have been drawn to the press at one time or another, many of whom remained there in some way or another,” said Schudlich. Also on display is a vast cross-section of printing techniques, which Schudlich was kind enough to walk me through, as there are many misconceptions about printmaking as a unique art form.
On display in the show are works made using various forms and equipment. Among them, a Risograph, which is a printing machine that’s a bit between photocopying and screenprinting. The risograph can print either directly from a computer or from the scanning table on top of the machine. The image is transfixed to a master sheet, which acts as a screen that the ink is pressed through, directly on to the paper. For multi-colored prints, the paper is sent through the printer multiple times, once for each color, a technique quite popular with ‘zine publishers. Also popular with indie publishers, the laser copy is a ubiquitous technology of creating a replica with machine assistance. These may be black and white or color. Letterpress printing is a technique of relief printing using a printing press, a process by which copies are produced by repeated direct impression of an inked, raised surface against sheets or a continuous roll of paper. The inked surface may be metal, wood, linoleum, polymer, or other material, and it creates a reverse image of the typeface (so letterpress type appears backwards, when it is set).
There are also monoprints, a form of printmaking where the image can only be made once, unlike most printmaking, which allows for multiple originals. An impression is printed from a reprintable block, such as an etched plate or woodblock, but in such a way that only one of its kind exists, for example by incorporating unique hand-coloring or collage. The beauty of monoprinting lies in its spontaneity and its allowance for combinations of printmaking, painting and drawing media.
Silkscreen, or serigraphy, printing uses mesh to transfer ink onto a substrate, except in areas made impermeable to the ink by a blocking stencil. It allows for many layers of color, and also a high degree of replicability, but in the case of fine art prints, limited runs are often created. Another common fine art printmaking form is lithography, with impressions made from a smooth-faced flat stone or metal plate, but is not a technique on display at the Scarab Club.
As indicated by the different types of printmaking, the work on display ran the gamut, in terms of both aesthetics and function. On one end of the spectrum are the working prints—no less artistic, but serving an informational function, such as promoting performances or advertising local businesses. At the other end are highly stylized works that incorporate printing as a process, but take extra steps to be unique, one-off creations.
Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD) Facilities Associate Chris Riddell’s oddly poignant photocopy work, Sugar Booger.Designer and printer Melissa Dettloff accompanied her colorful screenprint piece, Pom Pom #1 with a found-object maquette (Pom Pom #2) that acted as a mixed media mirror for the composition. Art educator and printmaker JenClare B. Gawaran’s collage of serigraph, Chine collé, and colored pencil, Bang Bang You’re Dead has elements that rise dimensionally above the surface of the paper, casting dramatic shadows in her portrait of a girl taking target practice at cans stamped with purple unicorns from atop fenceposts. All along the way are works experimenting with print as a form, such as outsider artist and
“In all but three instances I met with each artist individually,” said Schudlich. “The dialogues were one of the joys of curating this show. Mark Arminski’s studio in the Russell [Industrial Center] is like a grand twisted shrine of history, as well as a spring for his new work in painting. A visit to Detroit Wood Type Co. afforded me a glimpse at the casting armature for the Robocop statue. Megan O’Connell’s Salt & Cedar is a breathing museum, and a testament to her passion for her work, Ocelot Print Shop is a warm community-based print haven that offers the opportunity for others to engage in the joys of mark making through screenprint.”
Truly, print artists have a love of sharing information and exchanging techniques—the event’s opening night party on Friday, August 5th, was a happy cacophony of print enthusiasts in full swing. This practice of information-sharing is alluded to in the show’s title, which is an archaic colloquial expression for a print shop apprentice (although the “devilish” apprentices were often blamed for any errors in the printing process).
“Even the older, more established artists seem to seek new ways to interpret the process,” said Schudlich. “Many of the individuals in this show are part-time printers who use other’s presses and shops as they have access. In my case, I print sporadically, and always with the overseeing eye of a ‘master’ close by. I suspect I am not alone.” Indeed, as The Printer’s Devil very much demonstrates, Schudlich is in great company.
All photos courtesy of Sarah Rose Sharp.