Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Big Ol' Prints Invitational, Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute Utica NY July 2 2016

So, the Big Ol' Prints Invitational was the brainchild of instructors at MWPAI/Pratt in Utica who were itching for a way to print their block work at a scale beyond that which your average printing press can accommodate. I would imagine a pint of ale or two played a role and inspiration from other artists & organizations who have likely been using the method ever since steamrollers were invented. Artists do things like that: Subvert technological advances to make creative gestures with that might at first strike one as absurd, which is exactly why it rules. I'd managed to misunderstand being invited to take part in the 2015 event but as so many of my Utica art scene pals were onboard made a point to be present. Was VERY impressed by what I saw -- the subjugation of heavy industrial equipment to generate delicate works of art -- and was determined to get my turn in 2016. Even if liability concerns meant none of us would get drive the steamroller this year. Darn.

The concept of the invitational is marvelously designed: A group of 25 artists who may or may not have a background in printmaking are offered up the chance to carve a roughly 40 by 48 inch slab of MDB composite board into a giant printing block. The boards are gathered, prepared for inking, and at noon or so on the chosen day the artists gather in the rear parking lot of the Munson Williams Proctor Arts Institute museum with appropriate materials & working tables for the boards to be inked on, along with a full sized industrial steamroller on loan for the day.

The assembled artists are then divided into four teams: The Inkers, the Board Wranglers, the Layout Crew, and my team, the Gallerists. All of it was very physical work. Inkers gob, smear and roll the buckets of ink over the blocks, or boards. Board Wranglers then *carefully* take the inked boards and place them onto a section of carpet padding fitted inside of a grid of tape on the parking lot surface marking the path of the steamroller. Layout Crew members then even *more* carefully lay a roughly 50 by 60 inch sheet of linen onto the inked block and then roll another layer of carpet padding over it. 

Video from the event taken by Bruce Moseley.

The steamroller then does it's thing and after the Layout Crew roll up the top layer of padding the Gallerists then carefully peel the finished print off the block, elegantly display the results to assembled onlookers, and then march the still very wet prints to either of two drying locations. Which is when the real fun began as the wind was gusting quite actively all afternoon, transforming the linen sheets into sails in search of a schooner. Plus the pace of the activity needed to make sure that two prints of each block were taken was relentless as the steamroller was due back at 4pm sharp. Figured I'd have time between pulls to wander off & enjoy the sidewalk exhibit Munson stages in front of the museum every year showcasing local artists. Not a chance.

Work on the project started for me in May, or at least contemplating what to do with the opportunity. And when all was said & done I thought the prints I ended up making were great, will enjoy showing them when opportunity presents. But the board I carved is amazing, and the best part of it all was getting to work with the superb group of artists who made up the teams Not one sloucher in the bunch, with pulled muscles, knees ground down on pavement, ink-smeared faces and shared respect for everyone who took part all around. This was cool.

Board pickup in May ... or was it June (?) with artist Tony Thompson and the Big Ol' Print director Audrey H. Taylor, who also teaches drawing and sculpture at MWPAI Pratt.

Artist Jenna North had been the one to drop my name last year as an artist to consider inviting and I had the good fortune of getting to study her block for ideas as it sits in front of the bricked up fireplace in what's now my Utica living room.

Jenna trumphant with her finished print from last year's round, and yeah I wanted to get to do that too.

Our boy. Roughly 3/4 inch MDB particle board, cut to about 40 by 48 inches and stained with plain black ink. Stared at this thing for about three weeks before deciding I'd had enough worrying about messing it up. Borrowed some of my dad's wood carving tools & looked at examples of prints by artists I was familiar with from art history. 

Actually had a dickens of a time conceptualizing how I would work on the board. Knew I needed to be able to make a pile of wood shavings & pretty much crawl all over the thing. It was cold, dank and cave-like at my Macartovin Building studio. I wanted to see trees, sunlight, birds and summertime chicks. Had this table artist Shelley Graham Turner loaned me for the One World Flowerfest project, and reasoned it might just fit against the east wall of the apartment porch I use as an office. 

Another project that I was involved in simultaneously was the Just Add Water II benefit show at Kirkland Art Center in nearby Clinton NY. Golden Artist Colors supplied sample kits of their incredible QOR Watercolors in two palettes, each with a 4x4 square of good tough rag paper. Broke in the table getting busy with the things. Undertook a number of them and after knocking this one off decided it would serve as a decent enough motif for a bigass print on linen.

Click here for a blog post from last week on the Just Add Water II benefit and a rundown how these two projects became inter-related for me.

QOR Wartercolors

Golden Artist Colors

Chalk outline sketch on the board, with the geological feature just to the space couple's right enlarged to become Mount Krumpet, or whatever.

Finally carving. Got a bit aggressive at first and chewed parts of it up before understanding how the gougers worked.

Did a lot of my carving with serrated kitchen knives, hoping the parallel scraping of the serration points would help add texture. They mostly absorbed ink and disappeared, something to keep in mind when outfitting tools for next year.

Sunsets across the shield. 

Nearing completion and debating whether or not the space couple was really vital to the composition. Decided to try another 4x4 QOR watercolor study directly mirroring the composition.

And yes, they were vital. Because it's Space Boy's Hot Date to the Planet of Steamrollers.

Planeta Steamroller, the Planeta part a nod to low budget Italian made science fiction films from the 1960s. I am addicted to them.

One of the print images which inspired me, taken from the inside cover of a 1949 book publication from the "Tom Corbett: Space Cadet" series. Watched episodes of it on YouTube through my phone while carving.

"What do you mean, the rocket ship is out of gas?"

The final carved board in my mom's front yard. Had to take it to town while getting ready for a show at The Tech Garden and actually finished it on their dining room table about an hour before the dropoff deadline.

Back to Utica for dropoff. Made it!

The final boards assembled for shellacking prior to the event.

Event day had originally been slated for Friday July 1 but a sharp call on the weather averted disaster as it rained and rained and rained. As it was we still had to contend with gusting winds but other than that one could not have asked for a nicer day in July to undertake this very outdoors & public spectacle.

July 2nd in the big lot behind the museum and a pretty good view of the setup: Inking tables under the blue canopy to the right, the steamroller, its marked path and a rack of linen sheets ready to go. 

Assembled onlookers. The MWPAI sidewalk show was on display in front of the museum and as with last year curious onlookers joined the ranks of a dedicated Peanut Gallery who cheered on every last printing.

Board Wranglers finessing placement while Layout Crew readies the linen. Of note is that to speed things up two boards were laid out at once. And once the human machinery working the process was in motion it did not let up for three nonstop hours. Felt more like nine.

Layout crew placing the top carpet padding layer over the linen.

THIS was funny. With the wind gusting the edges of both the top carpet padding and the linen would blow off their mounts causing potentially ruination by smudging of the wet ink -- No "do-overs" in this game. So the brave ladies from the Layout Crew took it upon themselves to hold down the edges of the top layer of padding with their toes as this seventeen ton steamroller inched forward ... Poor Beth Post almost got smushed when it flapped up at the critical moment during one pull captured on video.

Board Wrangling involved first collecting the block from the row against the retaining wall, taking them to be inked, bringing them back to be positioned, then pulling the printed block up, placing it back along the wall, and starting all over again. Meanwhile four blocks were being inked at any given moment to keep the flow constant and the event on schedule.

I believe his name was Ron, and no. Common bribery would not work in an effort to convince him to let me drive. Neither did chocolate. This is a committed professional. 

One of the drying locations chosen for the still very wet inked prints was the 3rd floor sculpture lab in the Pratt Institute building next to the lot. Up the stairs and down the stairs all afternoon to a web of clotheslines criss crossing the room. Walking the prints up the stairs without allowing them to fold over & be ruined was a trying thing at times. The pace constant. My new diet was grateful, my knees less so. Though it was fun to watch the forest of prints grow over the course of the day. Still have a couple of the binder clips we used to fasten them to the clotheslines jiggling around in my shoulder bag.

Media coverage, not sure by whom but I want his tape.

Yeah I do.

Back upstairs.

And another round.

No slackers. Nobody idled. No smoke breaks or diversionary side trips to the minimart. We took about 20 minutes for water and food.


The wind making its presence known. Kind of a shame but part of the point was to hang the prints outside by the arena for the public to see & consider purchasing, with the proceeds going into the kitty for next year's event.

Back up.

Back down.

Back up.

Etc ...

Running out of clothesline room upstairs. 

Here we go.

Moment of truth on Planeta Steamroller.


LOL I was confused at first. Hung it up and did not recognize it, or was thinking it was backwards. Which it was, as for all those weeks it never sunk in that the image would be printed in reverse.

Painters ...


The badassest print of them all, done by my man Michael whom I believe had once taught printmaking at Pratt/MWPI.

Heck yeah I wanted a shot. Learned a lot, looking forward to doing it all over again.

With Megan! who got that Great White Hunter shot with the print. Beer anytime on me, excellent work.

Print specialist from Syracuse University who came in for the day, master of the inkroller.

Artist Marc-Anthony Polizzi, who would rather be shivering on the side of a mountain in a blizzard eating dehydrated survival food than anything else, other than making kickass works of art.

Artist Christopher Cirillo, who was part of the Broad Street Gallery artists group I got to work with in Hamilton NY and also teaches painting at Pratt/MWPAI.


YES! Excellent.

The final results. Reminds me of the Shroud of Turin in space.

Project completed by self-shot with Audrey Taylor, so glad to have been invited to take part! Count me in, whatever it is, count me in.

One of two put to good use. Dad's offered to help make a stretcher for the other one, can't wait until mom gets to see it!

On this kick, and hoping to get an art show out of it paying homage to pulp science fiction cover artwork & Queen drummer Roger Taylor's 1981 solo album "Fun In Space". One of the nice features of its packaging was that lifelong scifi fan Taylor commissioned six artists of the day to create faux vintage science fiction covers for imaginary books titled after the names of the songs on the album which were used to decorate the inner sleeve.

So what I want to do is invite artists to create a faux pulp scifi cover artwork -- complete with story titles -- for a publication called "Fun In Space". Been creating them using digital images of my own paintings & a bit of markup for a few years now. Had to give this one a try ... Some work better than others, will put on some "Space Patrol" and try again in the hopes of inspiring a few other quiet lunatics out there to make me one. Or up to four. And have an art show of them at The Tech Garden in Syracuse, hopefully this December.

Dreaming of Cosmic Steamrollers paving their way across the Planet of Chocolate People Food.