Entries in printmaking (4)


Interview - Nirmal Raja

"Lyrical Lines" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”

Our next exhibition is The Tongue of the Hand, new work by Nirmal Raja. Raja answered some questions on the work she'll be showing. 


Can you start out by telling us a little about yourself and your artistic background?

I grew up moving every few years across India and then briefly to S. Korea and Hong Kong. I migrated to this country in 1991 after marrying my husband Sharath. I have a Bachelors degree in English Literature from India. I continued my education and obtained a BFA at the Milwaukee institute of Art and Design, and a MFA in painting at UWM. My friends and family, the exceptional faculty at UWM’s Peck School of the Arts where I continue to teach and an amazing support system at Redline Milwaukee (where I am a mentor resident), have all had a hand in my growth as an artist. Due to migration and travel, my life has been a collage of experiences. As a result, my artwork is a collage as well- of experiences ruminated, digested and translated. Nurturing a poetic sensibility towards life helps me reconcile diverse memories of a fragmented past with the here and now; this attitude permeates my work.


In this exhibition, you are exploring the different aspects of language such as “script as form” and “legibility and illegibility.” Can you talk a little about the evolution of these concerns in your work?

I am fascinated by the opacity of an illegible script. I have lived and travelled in many places and absorbed what it feels like to be confronted with a script I cannot read. It becomes line and pattern (form) and one cannot help but see rather than read. It is wonderful to focus on abstract notions of geometry, mark making, rhythm and how these things can communicate in their own way especially when written by hand. The expressive quality of line is universal and communicates something subliminal and guttural nevertheless.

I am also interested in the duality of these scripts as they parallel the duality of two cultures and perspectives. The same script decoded by a native speaker is perfectly understandable to her or him but totally illegible to someone who does not know the language. English plays a hegemonic role in written and verbal communication- probably remnants of a colonial past. We are increasingly becoming a monolingual society with very little tolerance of diversity of language. In the work “The Practice of Letters”, I place the viewer in a position where she or he experiences what it feels like to be confronted with script they cannot decode. Too often, non-English speaking people are put in this position. I chose to incorporate a ritual from childhood, which involves writing letters on a bed of rice. In this artwork, the viewer is invited to participate in this ritual by tracing the animated letters on a bed of rice which is a very sensual and tactile experience.

I am often saddened by the loss of my own native tongue due to attending all English speaking schools and migration. At the same time, I want to transcend the limitations of language through my artwork. In this show I focus on the possibilities of using line as a mode of expression, the substrate as manuscript and printmaking as mimesis and mirror.

"Community" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”You employ both traditional and new media practices in your work such as drawing and video. How does the blending of these types of practices help you to express the concepts you are interested in?

I try to keep my practice as open as possible to different media choices. My approach to making art has always given preference to the idea over materials. Although trained as a painter, I love to learn new techniques and modes of making. I have found that drawing animation particularly is suitable for what I want to express. I like the way it hovers between materiality and immateriality and allows temporality and participation. Combined with installation strategies, art becomes an immersive experience.

The Scribed series is very much about materiality and process. I started each of these works with an intentional mark and allowed for free “writing” Some are about gesture and line, some resemble asemic writing (a wordless and non specific form of writing) and some become pattern. My intent is to remove coding and semantics and create a space where the viewers can fill it with meaning. I chose to use an ancient book form – palm leaf scroll as a substrate and then connect that with the Western tradition of printmaking and its role in the proliferation of knowledge. The scroll and the print mirrored, speak for cultural and formal duality within the work.

How does the work in The Tongue of the Hand differ from your previous work? How is it the same? Specifically, how did your consideration of our 12 X 12 space influence your work?

Text and line have always had a presence in my work usually to enhance an over all concept. I consider the work included in this show as beginnings of an ongoing exploration. There are several other aspects of text and language that I will continue to explore in the future. The advantage of a 12 X12 space is that it gives one control over the whole space and at the same time forces you to edit your work and thoughts. I chose not to include some work that was going in a different direction due to space and concerns of clarity and I believe this makes for a stronger show.

The text that is included in this installation is an excerpt from the Ain-I Akbari, “On the Arts of Writing and Painting” (ca. 1590) by Abul Fazi. Please tell us a little about this writer and the significance of this text.

Abul Fazl was the minister and advisor to Emperor Akbar in late 1500s India. He was one of the nine “jewels” in Akbar’s court, a prolific writer, historian and translator. He supported Emperor Akbar’s liberal views on religion and learning. I found this quote by him in an exhibition catalog about manuscripts and the written word- The word is sacred, sacred is the word, The Indian Manuscript Tradition. I was struck by how fresh and relevant his ideas still are with text based contemporary art and my concerns of language, art and communication.

"Sunset Perspective" Engraved palm leaves, intaglio and collograph print- 14” X 32”Do you have any other shows coming up that you would like to talk about?

I was invited to exhibit at the Alfons Gallery in Milwaukee in August 2015. This is particularly exciting to me as I am interested in exploring the spiritual in this show. I will be showing some video installations and other work that connect ideas of mindfulness, nature and transience. In addition, I am part of a group show in San Ramon, CA titled Intersections: Asian American Narratives in February 2015; I have a two-person show at the Hinterland Gallery in Denver in the fall of 2015, and a group show at the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum in Oct 2015. I am grateful and excited for all opportunities to share my work.



We'll be having a very special exhibition this Friday September 19th. The show addresses environmental concerns and how they may relate to human disease. C. Matthew Luther answered some questions on his approach to this topic. 


This exhibit deals with your struggle with Crohn’s and how the disease may relate to environmental toxins. When did you become interested in these correlations and when did you start integrating them into your studio practice?

"Exclusion Zone"It is a bit hard to describe, and it is kind of like the “Perfect Storm”. Several years ago I did a body of paintings that tried to mimic dreams and hallucinations I had while in a medically induced coma and near death, but that was more specific to an event. Jokingly I generally live with a certain amount of denial of having Crohn’s, but since I was diagnosed 9 years ago there has been an underlying current of my health condition in my artwork. A little over a year ago I began investigating Superfund Sites across Wisconsin because I found that there was one not far form where I lived. I wanted to know what had happened, why, and what toxins existed there. I began documenting more and more Sites because I believe people need to know about their history, where they are located, and if they continue to remain a health risk.

It was about 6 months into the project that I came across a recent research article from Environmental Health Perspectives in which researchers had found significant changes in the DNA structure of mice when PCB toxins were introduced. Several of the Sites I have been documenting have heavy PCB contamination. I had no intention of bringing my disease into the project until I read this article. It solidified all of these ideas I had about being a walking metaphor for how American culture treats the landscape and so on. The article pointed out the links to Crohn’s Disease and the similarities to genetic mutations in the human intestinal biome. I was still unsure if I should introduce my condition as part of the project for several reasons, but the link had been created between what I was working on artistically and what I live with internally. I felt that maybe I can not only create a dialogue about environmental conservation, but also talk about a disease that is often hard for myself and others to describe how they suffer or how the disease affects them. I always think about a couple of students I have had that had either Crohn’s or Colitis. I remember look of fear in their eyes before they tried to explain why they might miss class and why, and then the lift of this giant weight from their shoulders as I told them I could relate, but I also remember their horror stories of trying to explain to other faculty and some of the insensitivity.

Part of your practice involves documenting the EPA “Superfund” Sites. What are these sites and what is it like walking onto one and witnessing it firsthand? How have you been received by government authorities who you encounter in producing your work?

The Environmental Protection Agency of the United States defines a Superfund site as an uncontrolled or abandoned place where hazardous waste is located and possibly affecting the local ecosystem or people. These areas are further recorded as Remedial sites (long term clean up), Removal sites (short term hazardous material removal), and listed on the National Proprieties List for immediacy and time of action due to the amount of pollution. The money to clean up these location falls on the responsible party or property owner, but often these properties are abandoned or fall into ownership limbo and money is then allocated from Congress or what is know as the Superfund. Originally Superfund was the title for a trust of taxes billed to petroleum and chemical industries. The tax was dissolved in 1995, at which point the fund was 6 billion dollars.

By 2003 the original trust was exhausted and though there is resistance from the chemical and petroleum industry, there are efforts to reinstate the tax.

All of these sites are different and some worse than others. Some older, some new, and some have current clean up activity. Each site comes with set amount of hazards being on the property or near them due to the toxicity or condition of structures on the property. In general there are few locations that I have enter buildings on the property and most often I am just walking around the property experiencing it from the perimeter. Part of the project is experiencing everything from the outside and the mystery of what occurs inside. Kathy Halbur an On-Site Coordinator for Region 5, E.P.A. Superfund Sites has been an invaluable resource and a pleasure to work with. She has meet with me numerous times and helped guide and direct my project in many ways. Other government and state employees have been a little cold or non-responsive at times and there is a feeling that a wall goes up once you mention the word art.

In your work, you employ various production techniques such as pattern and the manipulation of layers, as well as digital and analogue processes. How do these processes relate conceptually to a feeling of presence and memory?

Overall it is a contemporary dialogue of culture I am addressing in regard to the evolution of digital technology and how it affects us physically and psychologically. This is a never-ending condition. What is new turns old. This is not a new theory, but what interests me is how it affects the human connection to nature, and to the landscape. Not all that long ago the Hudson Valley Painters presented a romantic view of the Catskill Mountains as many great painters presented an idealized view of the landscape that surrounded them. Now the romantic view presents itself through Instagram and other modes of the electronic globalization of images.

This presentation of images affects our vision of life that exists beyond our immediate experience. In my process of photography I use both film and digital for there unique values, one is antiquated, but as a medium will continue to be superior in quality and resolution. The other represents a superior element of storage, ease, and quick editing or manipulation. The elements of print I introduce are generally of a wallpaper pattern, an older traditional value of decoration. It is a pattern to represent home and comfort within an interior space. That pattern and structure of comfort exists along as it supports new forms of digital prints on canvas to adorn the home. All of these forms of process and production speak to elements of how and what we define as the present it in light of the digital experience of ideology and how we experience the past through an analogue vision of comfort, home, and landscape.

"Buffum MDC"How does presence and memory relate back to environmental issues through your specific experience of someone affected by an autoimmune disease?

…I remember one of my first rebellious environmental actions was pulling up survey stakes and remarking trees when I was a punk ass kid full of idealism. I wanted nothing more than that suburban plot of woods to remain as it was a thin 4 acre walk through of hardwood, and to grow it to something more, developers wanted something else…

I am not sure how to approach this question. But here’s my best shot; before I was diagnosed with Crohn’s, I was an artist, and before Crohn’s, I was an environmental activist. I went through the door of a tragic event and came out diagnosed with Crohn’s and everything changed, my understand of everything changed. Literally my memory was working on altered for a time. When I look out on the landscape I can see the scares of past events like my scares and I am aware of what is occurring presently and not much changes. An entire economy sprouts up before, during, and after a Superfund Site is created. Before it is defined as a Superfund Site it’s a proposed economic strength, it’s a private industry, and it’s a Gogebic Taconite Mine in the Penokees Hills.

Visiting the Little Menomonee River and the Moss-American Site is a bit eerie. I am familiar with this area from what I have read and about a river so badly polluted that volunteers cleaning up the riverbanks received chemical burns on their legs in 1971 from industrial run off. It is a Site not far from traffic and industry, but the area is now lush with vegetation and rich with amphibian and aquatic life. I recently shot underwater video footage of crayfish, as they would surround my feet as I waded in the water. Now that area is rebuilding itself, relearning how to be nature.

You do not shy away from the more “personal” aspects of what it’s like to live with Crohn’s Disease. In fact, the exhibit contains some darkly humorous elements. Can you explain why you choose to approach these subjects in this manner?

There a story my mother told me about a time in the hospital when the doctors would pull me out the drug induced paralytic to see how I would respond. I would try real hard to communicate, but I couldn’t speak so I would try to draw. The nurse or someone in the room asked me what the international sign for the bird was, and I would lift my finger and everyone laughed. I have no memory of this at all, but the story always makes me smile, and happy that in such a difficult time my parents were able to laugh as well. This illness is something I have to live with and If couldn’t laugh at it or myself, I would be letting the disease win. Humor is hard and a challenge for me to place in art. I love to make jokes and Robin and I are always making each other crack up, but in art it’s a different story.

In general I am tying to lighten the atmosphere and poke fun at myself a little bit, while making connections in the work with the metaphors of digestion, shit and pollution. Telling jokes about shit is difficult and fairly uncomfortable, and the outcome is both funny and awkward, but it is meant to be. It is difficult to describe Crohn’s to people beyond what is portrayed through bad Pharmaceutical commercials or what’s on the Internet. It’s not like talking about the weather when describing how the inflammation that causes chronic diarrhea also causes painful arthritis, or the medication and surgeries. So this is an attempt to create that dialogue with humor, but not forgetting that environmental decay and cultural perspectives on nature art at the core of all of this conversation.

Luther filming in Menomonee River


Interview - Mike McGovern

We were so pleased to show Mike McGovern's work as part of one of the first shows we put together, Amalgam. Read about Mike's work and the cool project he's been working on with his wife, Roxanne McGovern.


mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovern

Tell us a little about the projects or residencies you’ve been involved in lately.

Recently I have been teaching a pretty heavy load. This last term I was teaching 6 days a week at 3 different schools. So teaching has been my main focus and priority. But I have also been working at Children’s Healing Art Project, a nonprofit that works in Portland area children hospitals doing special art projects with kids in medical crisis and their families. (www.chap.name). My wife Roxanne and I have been working for CHAP for the past few years helping to set up a functional print shop. We are working towards making sellable products of the children’s art to raise money to help support the non-profit. We have been making t-shirts, calendars, and wrapping paper. But we are going to be expanding to produce limited edition prints of the children’s art. We are also going to be setting up teen printmaking workshops and art classes. She is the executive director of the organization and does so much for that organization in order to keep it up and running.

In the spring of 2011, I was a visiting artist at CSU Fresno and the College of the Sequoias. As a visiting artist, I was able to work with the printmaking students at both the schools to produce editions of my work. While I was there I also gave lectures about my studio practices. I was asked back in the Spring of 2012 with my wife and collaborator, Roxanne. Roxanne and I have a collaborative art team called OWL CAT INK. We create work about our personal lives and family histories and how they intersect. Roxanne’s work deals a lot with her Armenian heritage and how her grandfather survived the Armenian Genocide. Every year in April during the anniversary of the genocide CSU Fresno has an Armenian awareness week. Fresno has a huge Armenian population. So for the awareness week we were visiting artists and we had an exhibition of our work that featured a lot of imagery by Roxanne about her grandfather’s survival and legacy. It was a great experience for both of us we got to print with students and make lots of editions and give lectures on our work.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernHow have these impacted your studio practice?

Teaching always influences my work, it makes me understand my own work and what is important to me, and what I feel is important to teach and pass on to other artists. When I am teaching I am always being exposed to new ideas from students and children through their inquisitive nature and their raw unfiltered interactions with art. I get to see people grow and find themselves, something that artists are continually doing throughout their lives.

Who are some of your favorite artists right now and why?

Well there is always the usual artists I like to look at on a regular basis like Jean- Michel Basquiat and Robert Rauschenberg. These two artists have a real raw power with their work that I feel comes from an everyday American vernacular. I feel their work is really blue collar and accessible.

But some contemporary artists that are getting me really juiced these days are people like Peter Doig, David Choe, and William Kentridge.

Doig, who is a painter and printmaker, has just beautiful and rich vibrant paintings and prints with real interesting narratives, textures and colors. To me his work is very mythical and mysterious.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernDavid Choe is just so raw and unapologetic. His work comes from underground pop culture and the streets and into the galleries and museums. And I just love his use of materials, such as spray paint, ink, blood, found objects. Has a very punk rock and hip hop feel to his work.

I love William Kentridge animated drawing with very strong political and social narratives. He is a great story teller and works in so many different mediums.

But as I get older I find myself looking more to the past. I am hugely influenced by the German Expressionists. I love how as a group collective they accepted and pushed printmaking forward helping solidify it as legitimate art form. I really enjoy artists like Emil Nolde, Ernst Kirchner, Vassily Kandinsky and Kathe Kollwitz who were all associated with that movement.

Oh and I also absolutely love Alberto Giacametti and the way he transformed and distorted the human form in his paintings, drawings and sculptures.

How has your work changed since you showed at greymatter?

I am doing more collaboration with other artists. I feel that printmaking instills a real sense of community and collaboration through its democratic nature. It is the people’s art; it’s by the people for the people. So I am focusing more on working on my collaborative team, OWL CAT INK, with my wife Roxanne and pushing what we are doing. The work that we create is really influenced by the kids we work with at CHAP and the art that they create. If looser, more free, spontaneous.

I am also been working with another collaborative team with my friends, Ed King, Jason Leisge, and Cheyenne Sawyer. For the past year doing both collaborative etchings, monotypes, paintings and drawings.

mixed media print - Mike McGovern & Roxanne McGovernAre there any shows or events coming up that you’d like to make us aware of?

I have some smaller shows around Portland Oregon at some pretty awesome coffee shops that have huge wall spaces and great lighting. And I just got a solo show at the Water Avenue Commerce Center here in Portland in November.



Interview: Patricia Villalobos Echeverria & Nichole Maury

Print MKE is happening next week, and greymatter will be hosting "Trace and Gestures."  This themed portfolio was curated by Patricia Villalobos Echeverria & Nichole Maury. As a new feature to the website, we've asked them a couple questions about the show. Here's what they said.

Tell us a little about yourselves and how you got involved with this project.

We both collaborated on a course called Trace + Gestures: Kalamazoo <> Granada where we took ten students to Granada Nicaragua to work collaboratively with fifteen Central American artists and generate projects on site.  We came up with the theme for Trace + Gestures from our long standing individual interests in expanding the role of education beyond institutional borders and to engage our students at Western Michigan University with artists internationally.  In our own practice we engage in an expansive approach to print media that includes drawing, installation, video and other ephemeral modes.  We felt that the theme of the course could lend itself well to a portfolio of prints that we could propose to SGCI for the 2013 Conference.  It provided us with the opportunity to work with artists that we both admire that could interpret the theme in intriguing  ways.


How did you seek out the artists involved in this portfolio and how was a theme decided upon?

We invited artists that we both felt would lend a particular voice to the theme of the portfolio.  The approaches are varied and engaging and range from the evocative to the humorous.


We've always noticed that printmakers have an amazing sense of community.  How do ideas about community play a role in this exhibition?

In some ways it is because of the different paths that these artists navigate that were so intrigued by their unique traces.  It is true that Printmedia engages a very strong sense of community, collaboration and exchange.  Artists in print tend to exchange ideas, techniques, strategies, etc., because of that Printmedia is a strong discipline that engages contemporary artists.  The premise of the exhibition asks artists to think of the way an individual engages with a larger structure (political, cultural, etc...) or within a personal sphere; so the prints herein are a response to that idea, where artists reflect on how a small gesture can have a global impact.


One of the ideas addressed in this portfolio is tangibility. How does one’s experience as a printmaker lend to his or her conceptual understanding of tangibility?

This year's conference is dedicated to the idea of "Making" and we felt that what becomes tangible can stem from what is ephemeral and intangible.  We felt that those echoes, those fleeting imprints were something we were interested in capturing with the theme of this portfolio.  We are witnessing an unprecedented time globally, where gestures can have a lasting impact on the individual and on a larger scale; we wanted to engage those concerns with this portfolio.