SANTA FE, N.M. — Printmaking has often been considered the lost stepchild of the art market.
For centuries, both critics and the art market have demeaned prints as less important than painting, dismissed them as ephemeral or downgraded them because of their multiplicity.
Museum of Contemporary Native Arts curator Ryan Rice hopes to shatter those misconceptions with the opening of “ARTiculations in Print,” the institution’s first museum-wide focus on printmaking.
“I just want to show the diversity of printmaking,” Rice said. “It’s often misunderstood because there are so many processes, from silkscreen to engraving to woodcuts. We’re looking at how printmaking is accessible in many ways, but not fully understood.”
Roiled by constant changes in technology, printmaking as a practice is still foundationally based on techniques and methods used for centuries, he said. The exhibition encompasses artists working primarily in other mediums who have added printmaking to their tool kit by working with other printmakers, as well as artists who built their reputations, as well as portfolios, by pressing plates to paper.
The show features prints from the Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts (in Pendleton, Ore.) collection, as well as print-based exhibitions by Sallyann Paschall and Alex Peña (both of Santa Fe), Tony Tiger, John Hitchcock and David Sloan. The exhibition also comprises a collection of prints by the late renowned Inuk artist Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013).
“She’s sort of a national treasure in Canada,” Rice said. “She’s one of the first (Inuit) artists who excelled and got recognized.”
Known for her polar bear and seal imagery, Ashevak has continued to represent the powerful graphics depicting the visual voice of the Arctic. “A Fine Catch” shows an owl next to a bird holding a serpent.
“She was known for doing these birds and incorporating a lot of mythological elements from the oral tradition,” Rice said. “She was born in an igloo.”
The exhibition’s collection of 13 Ashevak prints includes aquatints, lithographs and etchings loaned from a New York collector. Her bold graphic style remained a constant feature of her work throughout her career. Incredibly, she created complex arrangements of owls, ravens, fish and other northern creatures using a single line from start to finish. Also a skilled seamstress, she was already well known for her sealskin applique clothing and beadwork when she began to draw.
The 47 prints from the Crow’s Shadow Institute of Arts collection range from the woodcuts of Institute of American Indian Arts alumna Marie Watt to the stylized bird figures of Rick Bartow and New York’s Kay Walkingstick, the subject of an upcoming retrospective exhibition at the Smithsonian, National Museum of the American Indian. Walkingstick is known for contrasting traditional native motifs with landscapes. Her “Walla Walla Memory” shows the indigenous symbol for mountains next to her interpretation of Oregon scenery. John Federov’s works speak to capitalism’s devastation of the environment, often with an abandoned gas pump as a recurring image.
In “The Killer Whale House #1,” photographer Larry McNeil placed a print of the earth above an image of the raven and dancing skeletons with the text: “Raven was white/Before he stole the sun/Time to steal/the earth from these bonehead humans.”
“The raven’s like a trickster,” Rice said. “He’s part of a lot of the creation stories.”
Navajo artist David Sloan’s monoprint installation features repeated animal figures atop images of old Navajo Nation grocery store fliers. Stereotypical figures of buckskin-wearing females and men blooming into full headdress pose against text such as “Wampum buy heap big pack.” The animals include whales, bees, penguins, turtles and butterflies, along with their Navajo names. Sloan also makes jewelry and paints.
“He’s playing with that kitsch that appears with stereotypical native images,” Rice said.
The Santa Fe-based artist had to invent a word for penguin.
“It’s something like ‘the bird that walks and swims,'” Rice said.
“There really is no word for penguin in Navajo,” he added with a laugh, “because we don’t have them.”
“The Place Between” is a two-person exhibition by Santa Fe artists Sallyann Paschall and Alex Peña. Both artists create abstractions of place in prints incorporating variations, such as drawing.
The accompanying exhibit, “Bon à Tirer: Prints from MoCNA’s Permanent Collection,” features works by Norman Akers, Harry Fonseca, Keri Ataumbi, Duane Slick, C. Maxx Stevens, Marie Watt and Emmi Whitehorse. “Bon à Tirer” is a French printing term meaning “good to pull.”
“People don’t understand that a print is still an original work,” Rice continued. “People sort of dismiss the originality or the authenticity of a multiple. But within an edition, they’re all of equal value.”