Finding Their Way

 Printmaking is a study in contradictions. A distinctly solitary and sometimes arduous
process can also become a source of good company. Because of the heavy-lifting and
expense involved in owning a press, plus the level of expertise required to operate
idiosyncratic machines, printmakers often need to hang together (so to speak), pooling
resources and experience.

 Zygote Press will be celebrating its tenth anniversary in less than two weeks, on May
12th., with a benefit and don’t-miss festivities running from 7-10pm that evening. During
the past decade Zygote has become Ohio’s largest and probably best-loved artist-run
printmaking organization, offering workshops, studios, presses and exhibition
opportunities to area printmakers, including many of the most talented artists to have
emerged lately from Kent State University, Cleveland State University, the Cleveland
Institute of Art, Ursuline College – the list goes on.

Long before Zygote’s move just last year to its new digs on East 130th Street, the
organization’s gallery schedule tended to include some of Cleveland’s most interesting
solo and group showings. And so it happened that Elisa Meadows of Heights Arts,
another up and coming not-for-profit arts organization, hit on the excellent idea of
collaborating with Zygote. Zygote founder Liz Maugans was asked to select several artists
who she felt were doing innovative work, and a Heights Arts committee proceeded to
make studio visits. The result is a nine person show of exceptional merit.

There’s no theme at Z9, nor does the exhibit need one. Each of the artists is represented
by several works, and while the prints on view are visually harmonious for the most part
they’re probably best viewed as nine mini-exhibits. Among the most inventive and
intriguing is Anne Kibbe, who explores the associative power of marking to evoke the
depths of human history and the unconscious. Kibbe says her works are sometimes
based on prehistoric cave paintings, using them as a tool to explore the deeper aesthetic
echoes underlying contemporary mark making. This of course was one of the ongoing
themes of abstract expressionist and surrealist tachism during the 1940’s and 1950’s,
from Henri Micheaux through Jackson Pollock. In that context the extraordinary
expressive printmaker Carroll Cassill, who taught at Kibbe’s alma mater CIA for several
decades, also comes to mind. His spontaneous scattering of fine scratches evoking
accidental damage and naturally occurring abrasions, which also speak to the psyche of
a world of sensation, burning and pricking at the margins of the nervous system. Kibbe’s
accomplishment at Heights Art is to start where Cassill leaves off, sketching a relationship
between pure tachism and the increasing estrangement of stimulus and response alleged
by postmodern theorists. Kibbe uses informal, relatively transient techniques like Xerox
transfer to evoke a state of flux. Parts of Boom shakalaka, for instance, could be a
transcription of abstract passages from one of the caves near Lascaux. Several areas
made up of dots, for instance, evoke primitive tallying, or spots on animals’ hides, or just
the pure, inexplicable human satisfaction found in making round black marks in series.
They also have a peculiar, fuzzy quality, trailing and disintegrating like frayed edges of a
threadbare garment. But behind these Kibbe has brushed all sorts of harder-to-discern
shapes that eddy and sway into blankness.

In fairly stark contrast to these will-o-the-wisps of time and human presence are Jen
Craun’s crisply lovely intaglio and paper lithography creations, which spin out
metaphorical accounts of a young mother’s daily concerns, while touching on issues of
semantics and semiology. Craun, who obtained an MFA from KSU in 2003, is Zygote’s
Associate Director. Her most ambitious work at Heights Arts is the roughly two foot square
home [here + there] depicting a bird in flight above a dotted line that stretches diagonally
up from the bottom left of the image between points labeled A and B. Several dozen red
shapes beneath that could be either fallen leaves or feathers, perhaps counting lost
moments and energies.. Smaller works by Craun similarly deal with real-life issues, like
Make a Wish, which shows eggs in a basket labeled with possible x and y chromosome
combinations.

 For something entirely different, Z9 also includes four very strong woodcuts delivering
pointed political commentary by Claudio Orso Giacone, an Italian artist who has lived and
worked extensively in Ohio obtaining degrees from CSU and Bowling Green University.
His Piazza dei Miracoli emerges with stark clarity from the long tradition of activist
commentary that this medium is best known for. As he remarked during an artist’s talk at
the gallery, there’s no place for nuance in a woodblock print. “It’s all yes-no, not maybe or
perhaps. After all, you put gas in your car – you don’t maybe put gas in your car.” What
you get is what you carve into the block, and what Giacone carves is a lesson in reality.
His crowded “Place of Miracles” is a town square dominated by Church, Government, and
the Bank (“I am from Italy,” he wryly observes), and of course crowded with hypocrites.

 Since her graduation from CIA in 2005 Christi Birchfield has made a name for herself as
one Ohio’s best younger artists, and her four prints at Zygote don’t disappoint.
Consisting of two diptychs titled Give and Take respectively, Birchfield’s etchings
meditate on the filling and emptying of the self. Birchfield describes a world where
irreconcilable opposites pose unanswerable questions: inscribed at the top of a mountain-
like shape in Give are the words “Holy Hell.”

 For a small show, it’s a really big show, worth more space than we can give it here.
Wendy Partridge presents beautiful letterpress / monoprint combos highlighting her
interest in maps, and in poetic fragments by Francois Villon and Sappho. Susan Vincent’s
small intaglio and collage prints offer several different takes on the medium, from a
densely persuasive realism in the miniature views of her studio in two June 6 studies, to
the Edward Gorey-ish humor of Eating My Fill, where a large red caterpillar is slumped
along a slightly battered-looking couch. Glenn Ratusnik’s savvy and nuanced
postmodern landscape etchings, Lisa Schonberg’s vibrant abstract monoprints, and
Denise Stewart, whose exquisite abstract Finding Way XII uses woodcut, lithograph,
intaglio and drawing on teabag fiber (and which suggested the title of this review), round
out an exhibit of rare interest.

[Free Times 5/2/07]