Prints take top billing at Sweetwater exhibit

Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

From photographs to fine art, digital prints may be all the rage, but a national printmaking exhibition at Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley proves that many of the printmaking processes of yesteryear haven't been forgotten.

Titled “Here & Now,” the exhibit features 18 pieces by 13 artists from across the country.

“There's a nice selection of techniques,” says Barbara Westman, juror of this exhibit and a printmaking professor at Slippery Rock University. “And none of them are digital prints.”

And they range in subject, too, from completely abstract works, such as the piece “The Tenth Day” by Chris Warot of Aurora, Colo., to lush landscape pieces, such as “Yosemite,” a multicolor, multilayer relief print by Robin Gibson of State College.

Denise Presnell-Weidner of Sheboygan, Wis., displays two solar etchings — “Translucent Liz” and “Windowsill Silhouette” — that, at first glance, look like photographs, until you realize there is something more going on.

“I used the sun to etch the plate, which is then printed like traditional intaglio etchings or engravings,” Presnell-Weidner says of her process.

For Presnell-Weidner, who teaches printmaking at Lakeland College in Sheboygan, the process is a new one, and she says the richness she was able to achieve of the surface of the print “Translucent Liz” was, “as thrilling as the original photographs were.”

“It was a complete surprise and inspired me to dive whole-heartedly into continuing with this method of printmaking,” Presnell-Weidner says.

The print features as its main subject Presnell-Weidner's own daughter, Liz, standing between a window and a curtain. Having discovered the poetic quality contained in her original source photograph, Presnell-Weidner was inspired to use her more and more as a subject.

“The source for both prints is from a series of photographs I took of my daughter one incredibly frigid Wisconsin morning, when she was looking out a hotel room window in Wausau, Wis.,” Presnell-Weidner says. “The morning light was as intense as the air was cold. Her body dissolved in the light as it poured in the window around her. She was behind one of those sheer curtains found in most hotels, which enhanced the sense that she was evaporating in the sun.”

For Presnell-Weidner, documenting this moment was one of those “perfect moments” artists only get from having camera ready in hand, and “years and years of learning to be ready when the moment comes,” she says.

Then there is the work of Indian artist Indrani Nayar-Gall of Charlotte. Her two pieces in this exhibit — “Through the Looking Glass II” and “Travel Log-Mighty ‘M' ” — are the result of a combination of techniques, including intaglio, transfer printing, tracing and drawing.

But perhaps more importantly, they are comments on her cumulative experiences of moving from Barbados, where she lived for 23 years, to this country.

“I want this work to be a visual running commentary on people and events I encountered;” Nayar-Gall says, “how I connect to the land where I live to create a space myself; how that experience transforms my identity (or the identity of an immigrant); and how I, or any immigrant, accommodates the new experiences and the imaginations in the practice of my, or her or his everyday life.”

As for the latter print, which has an unmistakable “M” logo associated with McDonald's restaurants, she says, “There is no escaping the looming tall ‘M' — it follows you everywhere you go! The towering logos, standing like giants against the backdrop of the sky are constant reminders of the way corporate power dominates the U.S. landscape.”

The exhibit is augmented with a smaller exhibit of juror Westman's prints from her “Architecture Transformed” series. They differ from many of the prints in the main show in that they are all monoprints created from materials Westman has collected that give her different textural qualities when inked and printed.

“I started this series around 2007, and I still continue with it when the inspiration comes,” Westman says.

That inspiration, says Westman, comes from architecture.

“I've always been interested in architecture, but not necessarily the way architecture is typically viewed as a structure, as a completed building. I look at details. I like to zoom in on a section of a structure. Sometimes even if it is still in process, so even a building site can become something that I find interesting.”

Westman also finds inspiration in the materials of architecture, whereby such materials as concrete, wood, steel and stone can inspire textural elements in her pieces. Here, strips of newspaper, cardboard, plastic bags and other detritus are deftly used to re-create the feeling and texture of architectural materials, as if stacked one atop another.

“Not only is structure important, but the materials,” she says. “These days, there's such a variety of materials used in architecture, that all of these things are very interesting to me, and I try to find ways to show that in my works.”

Westman and several of the artists whose works are in the main exhibit will be on hand to discuss their processes further during a closing reception at Sweetwater from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 23.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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