Wednesday, May 16, 2007


From this week's IT:
The Ink Shop is currently showing work by two talented printmakers. Occupying the Shop's long exhibition room—recently renovated and formerly holding their office—is a small but well-focused selection of Neil Berger's black and white monoprints. On the other side of the second floor space, Jenny Pope's numerous color woodcuts show a variety of animals engaged in often comical dramas.

Berger's technique gives his work a spontaneous, painterly feel appropriate to its mostly everyday themes. He works directly on an acrylic glass plate, applying ink with a roller and using various implements (e.g. cloth, roller, fingers) to shape his images. The plate is then pressed onto a sheet of paper, creating a one of a kind print. According to the artist, most of his work here was done from imagination or memory without a previous sketch (the exception being a small portrait of a girl). Most of his work here is landscape.

His strongest work here is a pair of matching cityscapes. They temper his signature looseness with impressive eye for architectural detail. Both place the viewer in the middle of a road, its edges converging towards a distant vanishing point but being blocked off by strong background horizontals. Multi-storey buildings line the sides. The contrast between the similarity of composition and the difference of subject matter is notable. Manhattan shows a downtown scene with one of the Brooklyn Bridge's towers in the far background, center-left (shown three-quarters view). Cars line the central road, which is pierced by a perpendicular cross-street and split down the middle by a broken strip of tree plantings. Church shows a small-town scene; the road is dirt and a rustic church's tower takes the (compositional) place of the bridge's.

Several other Berger landscapes are particularly impressive. Harbor might be an ordinary view —storm clouds, boats, brushy waves, skyline on the distant horizon—if not for the diagonal railing appearing in the lower left corner. Graveyard is the sole piece not printed on white paper; its background is a slightly silvery blue. Dark silhouetted gravestones are echoed by a pair of larger black evergreens behind them. While some of the softer, less angular pieces can seem too hazy or impressionistic, Creekbed works well. Tree roots wind down from the upper edge over stones - larger and flatter towards the bottom.

Blake and Whitman both pair figural images with lines of handwritten poetry by their namesakes. The text is paper-white against a darker ground. The latter is the simpler and the more effective of the two. A dark smudgy silhouette sitting by a tree illustrates the three stanzas: "I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love...".

Pope's printed menageries, by contrast, feature solid blocks of color with black or dark colored outlines. (A handful of her pictures combine woodcut with collagraphy, which gives them areas of chalkier texture.) Forms are flat and overlap, forming a shallow perspective reminiscent of Japanese ukiyo-e. She tends towards earth-tones and faded blues, pinks and purples, with the occasional use of louder colors. Her style and narrative conceits can be cute, although not overbearingly so. Work comes from three series, which in her words feature "domestic animals and their interactions with humans, invasive species from around the world and the extinct megafauna of Australia."

Dogs and cats are her domestic subjects of choice. Among these pieces are three large pieces with an unusual emphasis on their backgrounds. The weird, sensual, anthropomorphic Anemone Cat is the most accomplished. A black, white and dark-purple feline lounges on a lavender couch, its body covered with sea anemones. The background is a wall of baby blue with baroque designs in yellow ochre. The loosely similar Fleur de Felis (feline flower, an pun on heraldic fleur-de-lis) is less successful, perhaps due to the cat's deliberately awkward anatomy and the unusual angular partitioning of the background. A pair of Rain Dogs stand in front of a green flagstone-like backdrop.

The most engaging of the "invasive species" prints are Great Lakes Powder Room and Great Lakes Basin, both underwater scenes. Black and white striped zebra mussels cluster and cascade while dark yellow-green gobies swim. Best of all are the adorable cartoon-eyed light-grey lampreys sucking on both to the fish and to each other. The busy compositions are handled gracefully.

Megafauna (literally "large animals") include marsupial lions, a diprotodon (also marsupial) and an archaeopteryx - the Jurassic ancestor of today's birds.
Berger will be giving a free "Talk Print" lecture at the Shop on June 14th from 7 to 8:30 p.m..

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