‘MOTHER OF EXILES’ An etching by Robert Indiana, 1986.
An aged poster hangs framed in Patricia Nick’s immaculate and modern Portland apartment bearing a handwritten mantra. In faded blue marker, the author scripted “An original print is NOT a reproduction. It is an original work of art conceived and drawn or cut on the plate, block or stone by the artist, the printing of which is either done by him or under his direction or supervision.” Below this manifesto is a comic clipped from a newspaper in 1985, the year Nick’s print publishing house and residency program on Vinalhaven held its first season of workshops.
Over the course of its 18-year run, the Vinalhaven Press selected major artists Robert Indiana, Mel Chin, Robert Cumming, Charles Hewitt, Yvonne Jacquette, Peter Saul, and Leon Golub (among others) to explore the medium of printmaking with leading master printers at summer workshops in an old schoolhouse on the quiet Maine island. While varying greatly in aesthetics and ranging in experience with the art of printmaking, artists in residence at Vinalhaven were all encouraged to experiment, and to benefit from collaboration and the communal nature of the press. In the comic adhered to the manifesto poster, one character’s speech bubble reads, “Like he said! It’s our business! Which makes it none of yours!” It seems the attachment to approaching a traditional image-making process through experimental filters and a sense of camaraderie fostered an open and focused environment, and is what kept some artists coming back to the press year after year. During the off-season, Nick ran the Vinalhaven Press Gallery in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, making the editions created on the island available to the public. The press quickly garnered a reputation.
After the press closed in 2002 the Smithsonian Institution acquired its archives, but Nick retained some unique supporting material for the prints, including linoleum and wood blocks, proofs, and sketches and guides for master printers. This material is stacked in neat piles around Nick’s apartment, and completed prints cover the walls salon style. Even the hallway leading up to the squirreled-away apartment boasts a Charles Hewitt triptych and a series of Indiana’s “Wall” prints. The accessibility to these revered artists’ process truly bolsters and expands our understanding of their work. Three Indiana lithographs from 1990 are hung just inside Nick’s door — two are incomplete versions of the third, alongside a sketch on vellum that served as a guide for the master printer. Viewed as a whole, the potential for the work can be appreciated, and we can see how Indiana played with variables, but was also incredibly specific in his communication with the printer and intentions for the finished work.
Bringing this accessibility to the public is a current show at June Fitzpatrick’s Congress Street gallery at the Maine College of Art, showing selected etchings, lithographs, woodcuts, and monotypes by 17 Vinalhaven artists, some alongside their mothering wood block or sketch. Highlights include another Robert Indiana drawing and lithograph pairing titled “For Friendship,” a coat-of-arms–like hard-edged design dedicated to painter Marsden Hartley, a large-scale and politically charged Komer & Melamid lithograph and monotype entitled “Double Revelation,” and Mel Chin’s “Flag of the Agricultural Revolution” (a woodcut rendition of the Chinese flag with yellow poisonous plants taking the place of stars). Also on view are a set of crude Peter Saul etchings with gorgeous line quality, boldly colored Grisha Buskin etching aquatints, and Goya-esque Robert Morris etchings.
Annie Larmon can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
“VINALHAVEN PRESS” | June Fitzpatrick Gallery at MECA, in Portland | Through April 24 | 207.699.5083