Though traditional methods of printmaking are arguably outdated forms of creating and mass-producing images, the medium has remained a fresh art form through subject matter and use, and is found everywhere from cottage-industry t-shirt printing, to concert posters, to fine art editions. The current exhibition at Rochester Contemporary Art Center brings together the diverse work of several members of The Outlaw Printmakers, a collective of artists and savvy entrepreneurs who blend incredible skill at traditional techniques with of-the-moment sensibilities and subject matter.
The collective's name is meant to reflect attitudes of the printmakers involved and their non-academic approach to prints, says Rochester Contemporary Executive Director, Bleu Cease. The group itself represents a variety of traditional printmaking techniques and ranges in subject matter, from Bill Fick's oversize linocuts of grotesque faces and skulls, to the bright abstract forms and graphic figures of Carlos Hernandez's massive serigraph and monotype prints. Also, look to Ryan O'Malley's "Totem" series of lasercut stencils layered with line-heavy screen prints, which form faces with a variety of symmetrically-mirrored features and objects.
To Cease, the collective provides a model for students and young artists of how creatives can eke out an intrepid living through a variety of entrepreneurial tactics. Many of these artists are constantly on the road, teach workshops and participating in print fairs, or bringing their wares on tour with bands such as The National. Some members take on commercial or commissioned work in addition to pursuing their own artistic interests. Work by members of the Outlaw Printmakers can be found in important collections, including that of the Whitney Museum of American Art.
The diminutive and clean relief prints of printmaker, illustrator, and painter Artemio Rodríguez echoes the style of European Medieval woodcut printers and Mexican print artists. The small, black ink images reveal a world of oppressive devils running us into financial and moral bankruptcy, and the dystopian reality found around the corner from the American Dream.
Similar sentiments are found in woodcut and silkscreen prints by Texas-based Julia Curran, the youngest member of The Outlaw Printmakers. In her work, Curran derides Western society's circus of mindless consumption, video-game warfare, grinning corruption, institutionalized oppression, and our worship of hyper-masculinity in culture. Humans are depicted as weapon-adorned, pampered-idol/sacrificial-cow hybrids, and the sick, sad insanity of it all rushes at the viewer from the chaotic, crass, colorful messes of such works as "Weapons of Mass Consumption" and "Party Boy Apocalypse."
The three stunning prints by Mike Houston of the Brooklyn-based Cannonball Press were each created by printing massive woodcuts on 4- by 8-foot plywood onto sheets of canvas. Each of the three works is a frenetic scene of dizzyingly crisp linework depicting an 80's punk mosh pit, deadly dames on a tarot card, and the scene of a bone-picking, finger-licking feast.
In addition to the crispy silkscreen prints of wolves, snakes, and horned gods included in this show, Brooklyn-based artist Dennis McNett creates installations, modern-culture-rejecting performance pieces, sculptures, wood carvings, and traditional relief prints. McNett draws influence from the imagery of early 80's skateboard and punk rock music scenes, and the feral folklore from the Norwegian mythos resonates powerfully with him as well. His commissioned projects range from designs for Anti-Hero skateboards, to shoes for Vans, to window displays for Barneys, New York.
Mississippi-based Sean Starwars pulls from pop culture and American advertising imagery for his rough and garish woodcut-on-canvas prints, building irreverent and satirical narratives such as the bun-less hot dogs being forced from paradise in "The Expulsion," or the showcased variety of firearms in "Celebrate Diversity."
Fueled by his open and enthusiastic penchant for Mountain Dew, and driven by the knowledge that he'll create a finite number of prints in his lifetime, Starwars challenged himself to create one woodcut per week in 2011, then upped the stakes the following year to one woodcut per day.
The work of Outlaw Printmakers leader, Tom Huck, is as much an adolescent giggle-fest as it is an epically rendered set of vignettes into the realm of imagination and memory. In particular, the memories captured in his newest work are of Huck's first non-maternal mammary sighting, the hilarious bewilderment of stumbling upon the recreational evidence that our parents are sexual creatures, and the destructive tendencies of naughty-by-nature human pups.
The Missouri-based printmaker is best known for his large-scale woodcuts with clean, intricate crosshatching reminiscent of one of his influences, Albrecht Dürer. This exhibition includes the premiere of Huck's new monumental piece, "The Tommy Peepers," a 5- by 10-foot woodcut triptych that was nearly four years in the making. Each of the three panels is action-packed, with enough depth and detail to discover several previously-unnoticed, bawdy touches with each new study.
According to Cease, Huck calls his subject matter "rural satire," and the prints "pick up on these stories from his hometown and growing up, such as the time he saw a woman dive into a pool and she lost her bathing suit." Here, the central panel reimagines the lady surrounded by a swarm of fascinated adolescent boys and raunchy references galore. Hearts and eyes and sperm adorn the decoratively cut edges of the massive prints, like a valentine to a moment in time.
The Print Club of Rochester — an organization devoted to fine art printmaking since 1934 — brought Tom Huck into town for a workshop in 2013, and worked with Rochester Contemporary and collectors Roz and John Goldman to pull together this exhibition. On display in the art center's LAB space is "Surveying Print: 84 Years of Prints from the Print Club of Rochester," showcasing a range of works by such artists as Robert Marx, Beaubais Lyons, and Jerome Witkin. The Rochester Print Club will hold a Print-a-Fair event at Rochester Contemporary on Friday, May 2, 6-10 p.m., featuring work by member artists.