“Can printmaking become three-dimensional? Can it gather images from different cultures in the very same work? Yes, answer the American printmakers who are exhibiting at the ‘Melina Mercouri.’”
We see it all the time in daily life. Foods from every corner of the planet are now encountered in supermarkets, restaurants, our dining table. Documentaries on every forgotten or new civilization or series starring black, white, or oriental heroes are featured on TV. Issues of concern to all social groups are subjects on which major newspapers and magazines base their articles.
Modern products seek the widest possible buying markets, by transgressing national borders. So do the fine arts when they combine in the same work a variety of historical styles. Half of the painting may be African art, while the other half European. Picasso was the first to do this in “Yound Ladies of Avignon” and many others followed when the post-modernist trend was established. We are living in a multi-national civilization as in the times of the Roman and the Byzantine empires, in the “global village” as McCluhan prophesied. The United States is decidedly the country with the most experiences in that kind of living, since it is made up of many nationalities and mentalities since it’s beginning.
With great interest we set out to view the exhibition of contemporary American prints entitled “Crossing Over/ Changing Places” which is currently shown at the “Melina Mercouri” and which did not the public attention it deserved. The presentation is wide and aesthetically successful. The participating artists originate in various U.S. printing studios and university groups (sic). In all the works without exception we noticed two elements:
As far as technique is concerned, the artists use printmaking methods (etching, silkscreen, etc.) as a starter and then add all imaginable kinds of other things such as photos, colors, hair, etc., turning their prints into modern three-dimensional paintings. As far as the content is concerned, we saw an anthology of the arts from all over the world and all psychological states. Mexican-like murals (Carmen Garza), a taste of violence from graffiti (by the well known in Greece, Leon Golub), an autobiographical portrait by Margo Humphrey, abstract images with memories of allegorical symbols (Helen Frederick), et al. There were many printmakers included in the show and they all tied together well as a group.
One could hardly make a critical comment on the technical perfection of means that all artists seemed to command to the fullest. On the other hand, however, this deep knowledge and perfection of their means undermined their art since it creates the impression that they considered printmaking insufficient and needed enhancement with painting tricks. Electronic computer work seemed to be about the only thing missing from these well-made works, and this is strange given the fact that computer graphics are directly descended from printmaking, with the same capacity of reproducing the original and multi-national communication via the Internet.
The general conclusion from this exhibition was very interesting. It reminded us of some of our own artists with similar orientation. Vallia Samartzidis, for instance, who many decades ago made monotypes which he colored afterwards. Tonia Nicolaidi and her accomplished technique in all print media. The younger Zoe Keramea, who in her recent show at the “Thema” Gallery turned her prints into performance art. Also, Michalis Arfaras, who for the past ten years draws his inspiration from the multi-national character of modern civilization.
Why Greek art galleries and the major art museums continue to shy away from prints, however, remains a question without answer.