Simon Carr, Parviz Bravo, Hans Haake, Bill Kennon, Jackie Lipton, Christina Maile, Gerald Marcus, Juanita McNeely Claire Rosenfeld, Cari Rosmarin, Sheila Schwid, Francia Tobacman Smith
New York, NY
Founded in 1970, when adapting industrial buildings for artists' housing was just a burgeoning concept, New York City's Westbeth Artists Housing still maintains its original mission to be a resource and generator for artists in the literary, visual, and performing arts. PRINT/PAINT is an exhibition of twelve multidisciplinary and long-term residents initially intended to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Westbeth Graphics Studio in 2020. After a two-year postponement due to the COVID pandemic, the show opens with a new concept in Westbeth Gallery, honoring the Graphics Studio and highlighting possibilities of printmaking by placing it in direct conversation with painting. Following this introductory essay are the individual responses from the artists to the question, "How do your printmaking and painting practices influence each other?" To situate each artist's work in context, a brief understanding of Westbeth, the Graphics Studio, and testimonials are in order.
The Graphics Studio was founded by Hungarian master printer Sandor Zugor shortly after Westbeth opened its door for the first time. Located in the I building, the new studio received a donation of Charles Brand etching and lithography presses still in use today. Under Zugor's direction, the workshop offered a wide range of classes where many artists diversified their process and medium.
Juanita McNeely is one of 40 artists who established the Graphics Studio, where she also worked closely with a Japanese teacher and master lithographer Hiromitsu Morimoto. Charmingly, she remembers the opening of the studio— a fountain to the outpour of her monoprint, lithography, and etching works. McNeely references her struggle with twice-diagnosed cancer and hospitalization in her art. In the face of her death, she lent her biography, and physical body to a no holds barred output. When she was diagnosed with a malignant tumor while pregnant, at a time of illegal abortion and restrictions on reproductive rights, her feminism enflamed. A survivor, she is one of the first artists to address abortion directly. Her indignation is exemplified in an Untitled lithograph which encompasses many of the symbols of harrowing events in McNeely's life. With the overturn of Roe vs. Wade on June 24th, McNeely's depictions of female grievances remain current, true, and necessary.
Christina Maile, Hans Haacke, and Francia further engage in social and political issues. Conversely, Maile handles the subject of abortion in the screenprint Pro Life Gun, also addressing gun control and political priorities. A leader in organizing this exhibition, she is familiar with managing in Westbeth, having co-founded the Westbeth Playwrights Feminist Collective. Her attunement to narrative developed throughout her playwriting and imagery references personal and inherited histories. Of mixed West Indian and Dayak ethnicities, Maile incorporates into her lens her parents' experience of intrusive colonial and missionary religion in small hunting and farming island communities. Growing up in Bedford, Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, she experienced hardships in a marginalized community. Her witty, provocative imagery pivots on the problematic issues of power, racism, patriarchy, global warming, and ignorance.
Haacke explores systems in nature, money, and art. From Germany, he was an active member of the avant-garde group Zero, which rejected the subjective art of post-WWII to focus on space, life, and the meaning of materials in the context of the world. The group, which had international reach, lasted just shy of a decade. Haacke has continued his conceptual practice, renowned today as a pioneer of institutional critique as an art form. He elects text in We (all) are the people (US Version), an offset lithograph already presented in public areas of European countries, and Ramallah (West Bank) with adjustments to the displayed languages to reference recent immigrants and refugees in the respective countries. Now, situated in the gallery in the West Village, the piece again spreads awareness to another public.
Feminist and Jewish identities motivate the arts and activism of Francia Tobacman Smith. Born in the Bronx, she joined the protest for women artists in museums, advocating as a Board Director of the Women's Caucus of Art who also conceived the Jewish Women's Artist Network. Her art is historically self-referential, including organic and architectural forms associated with her culture and heritage. Time Marches On amalgamates all three as an entirely abstract and ornamented landscape, whereas Organic Forms feels highly personal, touching on figurative elements.
Generations of writers in the families of Jackie Lipton and Simon Carr are formative for the artists' work. A daughter of two poets, Lipton continues the family tradition as a poet and an artist. Words, illegible, stacked, and sgraffito, give structure to many of her compositions. Loosely, she incorporates in a series of monoprints the words: "I don't know how they find each other, but they do," a message out of order embedded in a system of abstract gestures. Often, her experience of migraine-triggered synesthesia colors her work. She allows the multiple happenings or thoughts and conditions to mesh lawlessly before pulling from the chaos, resolution, and balance.
As a narrative painter, Carr painted his way out of family expectations that he would become a writer. He employs vibrant depictions and a sense of drama unfolded from Carr's imagination. His process is obsessive, often producing vast series, including biblical and New York subway scenes. A technical obsession with the anatomy of horses has led to their presence in various scenarios spanning over a decade, appearing in the exhibition within a countryside vista, explored in both the painting End of Summer and etching Open Gate.
In a societal sense, expectation played a significant role in Sheila Schwid's career. Her interest in portraiture started as a youth in her hometown of Omaha, NE. She took it upon herself to find success and create opportunities for women in the arts despite receiving little encouragement as a female to become a commercial artist. Recent compositions deal with the reflective experience and portraiture along 14th street, where observation and reaction overlap and obstruct each other. In this exhibition context, her works best exemplify how a medium influences an image, exhibiting the same compositions in oil painting and drypoint. For example, It'll Work Out, the print has immense texture: cross-hatching, contour, and parallelism, as opposed to the blended chromatic surface of the counterpart oil painting.
Travel influences the art of Gerald Marcus and Claire Rosenfeld. Former president of The Society of American Graphic Artists, Marcus sketches landscapes across the US, Europe, and New Mexico, informing artwork later completed in his studio. With pictorial space in mind, a highly gestural approach attributes to some of the beautiful contrast of texture and vacancy in his prints and paintings. In a similar direction as his landscapes, Self Portrait in Window evokes remoteness and mystery of the figure without a sense of time or place.
Rosenfeld is the daughter of a dancer, and her unique understanding of movement translates onto her pictorial surfaces. Similarly, the monotype Horses in Evening Night and oil painting Dream of Horses appoint sculptural and curvy elements with Rosenfeld's dynamic and abstract sensibility. In her travels, she has witnessed the effects of global warming firsthand. Concerned with subsequent wildfires, melting glaciers, and erupting volcanoes, she has spent the duration of an artist residency this year attending to the subject with urgency.
William Kennon, Cari Rosmarin, and Parviz Mohassel adhere foremost to formalism. A student of the techniques of old masters, Kennon has a long history in draftsmanship. His hyper-realistic style has evolved under the influences of Paul Klee, Matisse, and a previous career in set design, bringing into his work some abstraction and revision of color palette. Originally captured on camera, the nuances of the reference images of the Water Lily series are imaginatively altered. He draws on a poetic perspective, detecting emotion and gentle movement in the solitary scenes.
Rosmarin solicits raw sensations from uncensored play with distinct imagery and textures laid out in abstract fields. Her recent work, including the mixed media painting Child's Play, incorporates patterning derived from luxury textiles such as lace, netting, and motifs belonging to nature. Ultimately, the imagery finds order in an architectural-like arrangement, framed by Rosmarin's unique point of view passed down to the viewers' reverie.
Where Kennon pulls emotion from nuanced information and Rosmarin from the simple pleasures of color, shape, and form, Iranian artist Mohassel uses automatism in the production of his paintings and drawings. As an architect and philosopher who wrote a book on phenomenology in architectural drawings, Mohassel extends his thinking into a process-based practice. Opting out of objectivity and narrative for a gut reaction, Mohassel characterizes his work with an intuitive approach, a minimal color palette, and confident strokes subject to chance. Likewise to his painting Untitled With Purple, his monotypes yield one-of-a-kind images tied essentially to the moment's experience.
Beyond these twelve artists, within Westbeth, there is an array of communities and sub-communities dedicated to a continued and specific practice. PRINT/PAINT is ultimately a celebration of the versatility of artists' practices that thrive in the creative oasis where lifelong experimentation is encouraged and expected. Residency in Westbeth has offered these artists a platform to share their expressions in print and painting form with freedom and support. PRINT/PAINT is an example of what can be when access, funding, and support collide with an unfettered creative process.
Special thanks to James Fuentes Gallery for loan of Juanita McNeely artwork
Catalog Design: William Kennon and John Turner
Exhibition Co-organizers: Izzy Nova and Parviz Mohassel