Printmaking is a clever medium; like an iceberg, on the surface it's just a mass, a sulking stillness. (In the case of printmaking, just a bunch of lines and squiggles.) However, look beneath and you'll see something bigger: That mass turns into a massive collection of etched and engraved lines that become even more astounding when you are made aware of the processes used to create them.
This is what we learned from Wade Wilson Art's gallery director Ken General (a printmaker himself), who walked us around the opening of PrintHouston: NEXT last weekend.
Printmaking is a type of artwork made by putting ink on a matrix, known to most as a mold, and transferring it to a sheet of paper. Types of matrices include metal plates, silk screens or blocks of wood, depending on the artist's technique of choice. Though basic in definition, when broken down, printmaking becomes quite intricate.
"There are different disciplines in printmaking," General said. Printmaking is divided into four main categories: relief, where the ink is placed directly on the matrix; intaglio, where the ink is placed beneath the matrix; planographic, which sees the matrix specially prepared for a transfer of images; and stencil, which presses ink and/or paint through a screen onto the matrix.
Of these four, 12 subcategories of printmaking emerge: aquatint, digital prints, drypoint, engraving, foil imaging, etching, lithography, mezzotint, monotype, monoprint, screenprinting, serigraphy and woodcut.
When General explained to us in detail the method used to create Marcus Benavides's "Modern Saint Series-VI" woodcut on dyed paper piece -- the artist painstakingly carved nearly microscopic lines into the shape of an image of a haggard old man riding a subway onto a block of wood, then rolled over the cut-into areas with an ink roller, revealing the image -- it turned a mere scene of poverty-stricken sadness into a masterpiece.
And it transformed the rest of the exhibit as well. PrintHouston: NEXT is the juried biennial exhibition celebrating the second year of PrintMatters, a group of printmaking artists and curators in Houston. (Print Houston: Impressions, another PrintMatters-themed exhibition that opened the day before, was set up in Wade Wilson Art's main gallery, opposite the 4411 Montrose Special Events Gallery, where we stood.) Of the 300 artists that submitted from all over the U.S., 26 were chosen. Many of the pieces in the juried exhibition were colorless, save for Carlos Pozo's serigraphy piece, "Towers and Splines," a collection of red-orange and pale yellow straw-like strands.
If not for General's quick art lesson, we would've gotten lost -- and maybe a little bored -- in a room filled with monochromatic lines, the coolest of them being Bill Pangburn's "Untitled" piece, another woodcut, this time depicting green lines that slithered like snakes, and Orna Feinstein's "Montezuma" relief print on plastic floor installation, an asymmetrical blob filled with circles of varying sizes.
Though PrintMatters is seeing its second year, Houston's printmaking community and the city's art community as a whole are still growing, like that iceberg. "The art community is thriving, but we still have room for growth," said General. "There are a lot of possibilities that can be attained."
PrintHouston: NEXT will be on display until June 26. For more information, contact 4411 Montrose Galleries, 4411 Montrose. 713-400-5963.