A Is For Amy Casey, Z Is For Zygote Press
By Douglas Max Utter
As we all should have learned in high school biology, a zygote is "the unique diploid cell
formed by the fusion of two haploid cells (often an egg and a sperm)." Metaphorically, then,
the word takes us one giant step past potential into the realm of burgeoning individuation.
And that's what Zygote Press co-founders Liz Maugans and Joe Sroka (soon joined by
Bellamy Printz and Kelly Novak) had in mind back in 1995 when they named their fledgling
not-for-profit printmaking workshop: collaboration and growth.
In the past decade the organization has more than lived up to its name, becoming Ohio's
premier independent artist-run workshop space. In terms of size, membership, programming
and sheer focus, Zygote is unique, inspiring a minor revolution in the role printmaking plays
on the Northern Ohio scene, hosting exhibits by the area's best practitioners and serving as
a home away from home for several university print departments. Painters like Craig Lucas,
Yong Han and Dan Tranberg, sculptors and ceramicists like Laila Voss and Eva Kwong, as
well as master printmakers such as Kent's Noel Reifel and Michael Loderstedt have all been
involved over the years. Programs like Zygote's A.I.R (Artist in Residence) have brought
some of Cleveland's best artists into the facility, often introducing them to print techniques in
one-on-one sessions with Maugans or another trained printmaker during quiet summer
months, culminating in one- or two-person shows. And on another front, an exchange
program with East Germany has fostered international connections.
Not bad for an egg.
Zygote grew up in a tough urban block on the north side of St. Clair Avenue in the east 70s.
On the plus side, access was fairly easy both from I-90 and Martin Luther King Boulevard,
and a Tops supermarket across the street was a good source for food, parking and a sense
of neighborhood. Still, it was often a tough sell to get audiences to show up at the forbidding
factory building, especially during the dark evenings of Cleveland's long fall and winter
months. And there were two flights of stairs to negotiate for those who made it that far.
As the organization and its programming matured, it became obvious there were more than
a few reasons to relocate. When Tops closed a couple of seasons ago, it was only a matter
of time before Zygote packed up as well. Its new home is at 1410 E. 30th St. roughly two
miles from its birthplace, between Superior and St. Clair avenues.
"I am so thrilled we made the decision to move," says Bellamy Prinz. "I think this
neighborhood — the Quadrangle — shows great promise. We're planning consortium
projects with Red Dot, City Artists at Work and others. This is a dedicated live/work building.
Bill and Harriet Gould (Gould is a noted city planner, architect and watercolorist) live here,
and TasteBuds Restaurant is right next door. It's getting to be a real community, where
people make their homes and have a vested interest in the neighborhood — like Alenka
Banco and Convivium," referring to an art gallery in a converted church just three blocks
away. Gallerist William Busta also will open a new space later this year, just upstairs from
Zygote's first A.I.R. residency and exhibition in its new digs features the painter Amy Casey,
known since her 1999 graduation from Cleveland Institute of Art for her haunting, visionary
acrylic works. In the past Zygote has made canny choices for the A.I.R. program, often
picking painters like Dexter Davis or Michelangelo Lovelace, whose canvases always had a
strong affinity to printmaking techniques and processes. Casey proves to be a particularly
strong candidate for this transposition, as her highly detailed, essentially graphic rendition
of urban landscape reappears in new media. Guided by Zygote's Susan Vincent, Casey has
extended her increasingly worried imagery, like a tentative, homemade bridge out over a
wide chasm of paper.
Accompanying these new prints, Casey's recent paintings and works on paper will also be
on display in Zygote's twin galleries. "Sloth: Waiting," for instance, is an acrylic on paper that
comes across as a postmodern, even post-human, high-noon encounter. On the right an
enormous flowering plant rises like a kraken from the potent soil of what looks like a block in
the Tremont area. It towers above a narrow blue clapboard house, lunging across one of
the beautifully rendered chain-link fences that Casey likes to knit into her work. Its spiky
tentacle-like leaves appear poised to attack a strange half-woman, half-tortoise figure,
which makes its way slowly toward it across the nap of the heavy drawing paper. She/it
wields a tiny pair of scissors, as if planning to trim the oak tree-sized threat, but it may be
too late for thatŠ In the foreground a more typical Casey creature — sort of a double-rabbit
— witnesses the showdown.
Another 2006 painting on paper shows three, tall, thin apartment buildings more than half-
engulfed in a tide of tongue-like curling leaves. Two of the buildings are connected by a
sagging wire or rope. Conceivably, the beleaguered inhabitants could tiptoe across this slim
escape route — but to what purpose? There's nowhere to go.
Casey's prints are exciting. They deal with the same issues, but the deliberation of the press
and its procedural demands seem to enforce a different perspective. In "Hover," for
instance, a Casey creature hangs on for dear life as a tide of amber shadow rises along a
city street. In "Attack," large, blue, flailing octopus-things explode across the borders of a
beautifully executed, relatively conventional print depicting a nocturnal factory scene. A knot
of deformed and frightened pink animals huddles in the foreground. In these and other
works, Casey uses layering and the physical properties of her media, as much or more than
descriptive drawing, to evoke loss of control. She says, "I've been thinking about Plan Bs
and escape methods — how when you're left with nothing and everything's scary, you just
The end may indeed be near. Check out Casey's show not for escape strategies, but for
ways to bathe in the rising waters of the apocalypse.