This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Feb. 21, 2011 - On the occasion of "Equilibrium," the March 2011 Southern Graphics Council International conference hosted by the Sam Fox School at Washington University, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum has staged three outstanding exhibits featuring print media.
"Island Press: Three Decades of Printmaking" shows off the enormous range of works to come out of the university's own printshop, everything from traditional editions to experimental and collaborative efforts, by artists including Ann Hamilton, Chris Duncan, Hung Liu, Tom Friedman and many others.
Luis Camnitzer, who receives the Printmaker Emeritus Award this year from SGCI, has a strong selection from his remarkable body of print work on display in "Forewords and Last Words," curated by Washington University's Buzz Specter. Camnitzer is a leader in the field, establishing himself early on as a conceptual printmaker who combines prints with a host of other media -- this exhibition features etchings, digital prints, an offset-printed box-maquette, brass plates and a portfolio of five holograms on board.
The works range from dry, humorous conceptual propositions such as "Envelope" (1967), to the emotionally wrenching "Uraguayan Torture Series" (1983-84), to works that fit somewhere in between ("Last Words" from 2008, for instance, is a deadpan series of six text panels comprised of final statements of prisoners facing execution).
Finally, there's "Ghost," the first major exhibition of prints by the established contemporary painter Elizabeth Peyton. In monotypes, lithographs, etchings and woodcuts, the artist presents portraits of the popular icons, current and historical, that comprise her stable of subjects (musicians and actors like Eminem and Chloe Sevigny; writers like William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde; artists like Georgia O'Keeffe and David Hockney).
They're largely subject to the homogenizing effect that marks the artist's paintings -- i.e., everyone comes off looking angular and a little mopey. But they're beautifully done, complementing and extending the ideas Peyton pursues in painting. They also reveal Peyton to be a deftly skilled printmaker, willing to experiment with techniques and media to explore what they can offer her expressive language.
Among the strongest works on display are Peyton's recent still lifes, which pay homage to artists such as Camille Claudel and Paul Cezanne, and possess the visual energy and gestural grace of Henri Matisse.
Ivy Cooper, a professor at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, is the Beacon art critic.