Printmaking exists in an active, if dimly lighted, corner of the art world. Its second-class status stems from the notion that printmakers have only indirect contact with the finished product compared to artists in other media.
The reasoning goes that, no matter how hands-on the process, printmakers rely on machinery to produce their art. There is no immediate brush-to-canvas relationship, as in painting. And the end result is not always the end, because the process can be repeated; limited editions are inherently less valuable than singular works of art.
But such stereotypes are made to be broken, and forays into the expanding field of printmaking yield surprises. Art watchers have ample opportunity to view the medium at the moment, with exhibitions in galleries throughout Los Angeles.
The Lankershim Art Center show, “A Survey of Contemporary American Prints,” runs through this weekend, and the Brand Library recently opened its sprawling “Los Angeles Printmaking Society Membership Exhibition.” Meandering through the Brand gallery reveals just how vast and varied the field is.
Radical differences in both style and approach make this an exhibition that veers in many directions. Frederick Nichols’ idyllic silk-screen “Autumn Over Warm Springs,” for instance, uses the layering technique of silk-screening to present its profusion of bright but flat colors. But Jon Grintzler silk-screens are more provocative: His vaguely feminist composite image taps into the medium’s history as poster art and its potential for agitprop.
Some of the black-and-white pieces convey a raw power, a sense of expression that is scratched into being. The results can be mythic and stark, as in Kathryn Jacobi’s monotype, “MP#8,” a haunted face in half-light.
Carol Lynn Kirchner’s engraved mezzotint of “Eve” gives an unusual spin to the Biblical account of original sin, with Eve entangled with the reckoning serpent, lurking beneath the dreaded apple.
Carolyn Jo Weigan’s “Sanity Is in the Eyes of the Beholder,” regales us with images of confinement and subterranean angst. Greta Aufhauser’s sepia-toned “European Memories” captures a wistful ambiguity, a sifting through one’s memory in search of lost clarity.
Naturally, computers have been pressed into printmakers’ service, but the results in this show are less than dazzling. Computer art still is in its infancy.
For some of the artists here, printmaking is an umbrella term under which they freely mix different media. Alberta Fins is no stranger to mixed-breed artworks, and her invitingly peculiar “Kong On Line” is a collage of found art cutouts and a transparency that seems to show King Kong in silhouette.
Using a woodcut monoprint on clear acrylic on top of fabric, Bill Brody creates an unusual abstracted landscape with “In the Notch.” Assemblage might be a more appropriate description of Adrienne Momi’s “Shaman’s Cape II,” with its fabric-like vest dangling from a spindly dead tree in the gallery.
Prints have a rich tradition as book illustrations, and some of the pieces here expand on that storytelling heritage. Arthur Geisert’s “Etcher’s Studio A” is a precise, hand-colored depiction of an artist’s studio, an antique scene awash in nostalgia. William Kitchen’s surreal gravure piece “Allies"--which depicts a semi-clad woman with an eagle’s head--startles us with its nearly photographic realism.
Lauren Schiller’s intaglio print called “A Strong Fragile House” shows a couple lounging at home, seen from behind as if through a hidden camera. As the title suggests, there’s a stillness to the scene that may verge on lethal stasis. The domestic bliss is loaded with ennui.
If there is an underlying agenda in this show, it is to illustrate that there’s more to printmaking than fits the stereotype. Printmaking is a world of creative resources and handiwork, limited, like any medium, only by artists’ imaginations. There’s plenty of that to go around here.
“Los Angeles Printmaking Society Membership Exhibition,” through March 4 at the Brand Library gallery, 1601 Mountain St. in Glendale. Gallery hours: 1-9 Tuesdays and Thursdays, 1-6 p.m. Wednesdays, 1-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (818) 548-2051.