Culture | Putting the old and the new on paper

Concordia student show follows the progress of printmaking into a new age

Since the dawn of the computer, the way art is produced has undergone a paradigm shift. Thanks to futuristic techniques that would astonish the painters of old, art made of plain old ink on paper seems all but lost. But what of the modern printmaker, and the art form once venerated by all? In fact, printmaking lives on, evolving in Montreal’s art scene partly through the work of Concordia’s undergraduate print students. “INK | Masters Printmaking Exhibition,” an art show organized by the students themselves, illuminates the revitalization of an ever-changing field. Incorporating techniques like lithography, woodcutting, mezzotint, and others, the artists featured in the exhibit combined these styles to challenge the notion of printmaking as a stagnant medium. Mika Goodfriend, one of the artists, remarked that “in terms of what you create, there are no rules, only the ones you impose upon yourself.” With the advent of digital technology, the artist is free to approach printmaking with an efficiency and creativity previously unimaginable. Adam Sajkowsi, another artist who has work in the show, expressed the opinion that “printmaking is about cross-referencing mediums to create new ideas.” By combining traditional printmaking methods with each other and also with digital techniques, artists can create textures and styles that go beyond the original technology’s limits. Further pushing printmaking’s boundaries are the topics that the artists take on, which transcend the medium’s once-limited use in the religious and royal spectrum. “All Long Necks Deserve Scarfs,” a print made in a traditional woodcut style, for instance, depicts a llama in a scarf, satirizing the use of animals in clothing products.

Johnston Newfield, a second-year student in the printing program, challenges traditional printmaking even further. His print, “(a) gender,” which is accompanied by a sign stating “Come play with me,” invited viewers to move images of body parts and clothing apparel into whatever form they liked. Unlike a conventional print with a concrete message in tow, Newfield described his piece as “about letting go, giving it away to other people and letting them interact with it and interpret it in their own way.” Although they consistently challenge a centuries-old style of art, the students in Concordia’s printmaking program receive instruction in standard techniques. While still paying homage to the artists before him, Newfield noted with a hint of rebellion that “you have to learn the rules in order to break them.” To be able to engage in artistic revolution, one must be familiar with the limits one is trying to stretch. As the printmaking medium continues to adapt and evolve, the problem of purpose is bound to arise. Who is to say that one style is superior, that techniques are better now because of technology than when they were first created? No one can decide what is the “correct” way to make art. Brandon Gunn, a visiting professor at Concordia and the students’ teacher, mentioned that “everyone deals with [style] their own way. The key is being able to justify it yourself.” Spurred on by a visually demanding society that craves fresh ideas, artists such as these print-makers work for no one but themselves. With new techniques available, the opportunities are endless, and the pressure to conform to traditional standards is non-existent. Choice is what exemplifies this growing medium, and innovation will inevitably continue.