Prints in all varieties

‘Press Gang’ presents highlights from a bustling local scene

Is there a lonely printmaker in minneapolis? There shouldn’t be.

By most accounts we have a surprisingly large and vibrant scene for a city of this size. It’s a big tent whose poles are Highpoint Center for Printmaking and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, as well as institutions like the University of Minnesota and Minneapolis College of Art and Design.

Eric Forseth said he wanted to capture at least a sliver of that diversity with “Press Gang: Eight Local Printmakers,” a show he organized for Stevens Square Center for the Arts.

The show brings together artists who not only work in different styles, but also come from different generations. Several agreed the interest now in their work, and printmaking in general, was surging.

“The local scene has seen quite a lot of action over the last couple of years,” Forseth said.

“Letterpress printmaking has gotten kind of trendy, I think partly as a reaction to all the overuse of digital design,” he said. “I think people are going back to the hand presses as sort of a more human-centric kind of design.”

Forseth said there was wider recognition of local printmakers thanks, in large part, to another local scene with outsized creative output: local music.

“[The] popularity of the gig poster as an art form has added to the popularity of printmaking in general,” he said.

That last comment rang true for local printmaker Anna Tsantir.

“I know a lot of people who do poster work,” Tsantir said. “Band posters have always been popular, but I think right now they’re just incredibly popular, more than they have been.”

Tsantir was one of three emerging artists awarded a 2008–2009 Jerome Residency at Highpoint. She planned to show some of the pieces produced during that residency at “Press Gang,” including images of towers built out of stacked polyhedrons, printed on handmade black and indigo paper in a grey-silver ink she called “moonlight.”

During her residency at Highpoint, Tsantir worked alongside fellow award-winner Daniel Luedtke, aka Danimal of Minneapolis band Gay Beast. She identified Luedtke as one of several artists who are blurring the line between commercial and fine art printing with innovative poster art.

“He does beautiful, beautiful prints, but they’re posters, and most of them are done for specific shows,” Tsantir said.

Dates, times, locations and band names are often relegated to the corners of Luedtke’s screen prints, recognizable for their bright colors and updated psychedelic sensibility. If a gig poster can get young people interested in the wider world of fine-art printmaking, that benefits all local printmakers, Tsantir said.

That includes those working in styles far removed from a screen-printed gig poster, like retired St. Olaf professor Jan Shoger. For “Press Gang,” Shoger planned to show abstract woodcuts inspired by the colors and patterns she finds in nature.

“I happen to love and stay with a lot of the traditional methods,” Shoger, Forseth’s former printmaking instructor, said.

That doesn’t mean she can’t feel the local buzz around printmaking.

Said Shoger: “I think things have been enlivened.”

Joanne Price, studio manager at Highpoint, works in a traditional form but creates prints that carry an urgent message. “Animal Terrorists” is the theme of a series of woodcuts executed in the Japanese print style known as ukiyo-e that express Price’s anxiety over scientific meddling in the food chain.

Her image of four pigs in pink and blue watercolors seems like a pleasant pastoral until you notice the orange slime oozing beneath them, the toxic byproduct of an overcrowded feedlot.

In April, Price was busy preparing for the June reopening of Highpoint in its new, larger Lake Street location. A number of its co-op members have been quietly preparing for that day since Highpoint closed.

“People are really anxious to get back in,” Price said.

Could a burst of creativity be far behind?

Go see it
“Press Gang: Eight Local Printmakers” runs through May 24 at Stevens Square Center for the Arts, 1905 3rd Ave. S. 879-0200.