at the University of Alberta
By Brian Fitzgerald
In art, bigger isn’t necessarily better. But if good, a huge work can be a treat for the eyes -- without overwhelming them.
To be sure, one of the first things you notice at the BU Sherman Gallery’s newest exhibition is the sheer size of many of the prints. Lines of Site 2003: Confluent Visual Cultures at the University of Alberta contains works as large as 12 feet by 4 feet. Could it be that the immensity of Canada, with its almost four million square miles, has an effect on printmakers there? “The scale of the prints might have something to do with the openness of the physical landscape of our country,” says Walter Jule, coordinator of printmaking at the University of Alberta. “If you drive 15 minutes from the center of Edmonton, you’re in an environment that’s so vast and open, I do think it has some influence on the students’ work.”
Artists sometimes use large-scale creations to show a certain bravado, or to “express some unleashed ambition,” says Jule. “But my feeling is that in the university’s printmaking program, we’re using scale to obtain a kind of intimacy. It’s not a spectacularly colored, aggressive kind of treatment. The prints are big, but they fill the visual field with some very intimate and tactile art. I don’t think it’s scale for scale’s sake. I think it’s scale to achieve a mirror of self in an intimate landscape.”
For those unfamiliar with Canadian geography, Edmonton isn’t a mere stone’s throw from Montreal. And because the University of Alberta is more than 2,000 miles from Boston, it’s natural to wonder how this slice of art from the Great White North came to BU. Deborah Cornell, a CFA assistant professor of visual arts, explains that the University of Alberta’s printmaking program is internationally renowned. And because BU is hosting the Boston Printmakers 2003 North American Print Biennial at the 808 Gallery (see Calendar, page 4), Cornell got a chance to speak with artist Malgorzata Zurakowska, a member of the board of the Boston Printmakers. “She was very familiar with the program at the University of Alberta, and suggested that we look at its catalogue,” says Cornell, chair of the printmaking area at CFA’s school of visual arts. “We did, and we thought it was very impressive.”
The Sherman Gallery exhibition follows an earlier exhibition held at the University of Alberta in 1997, entitled Sightlines: Printmaking and Image Culture, which brought together artists from 18 countries. In the years following, a 100-print version of that exhibition went to the Real College of Art in London, Musashino Art University in Tokyo, and the City Hall Gallery in Prague. The BU exhibition is a smaller version: 27 images.
The size of the exhibition is perfect for the Sherman Gallery, says Ann Marie Parisi, exhibitions coordinator for the school of visual arts. The gallery, with a renovation last summer and the installation of an HVAC system to control humidity and pressure, “is attracting more opportunities than ever before,” she says, “especially with certain private collections.”
Lines of Site, along with the North American Print Biennial and Carborundum Printmaking: Henri Goetz and His Legacy at the BU Art Gallery -- all running through April 6 -- is making BU a print lovers’ paradise of late. Printmaking, composed of four fairly broad categories -- relief (woodcuts), intaglio (engraving, etching), lithography, and serigraphy (silk screening) -- continues to grow in popularity as artists modify traditional techniques, use them in combination, and introduce new elements, such as digital images. “Printmaking is really an enveloping term,” says Cornell. “In general, it has to do with the impressed image, with layering, with the idea of making a page with the luscious qualities of the medium.”
For example, Tracy Templeton’s work Prolonged Absence in Lines of Site is an etching of an old mattress made using chine collé, a method of applying thin papers to a printed image for added color or tonal definition. “Tracy is from the prairies of Saskatchewan, a wide open area. She grew up looking around on the prairies and investigating all the broken-down farmhouses,” says Jule. “She goes inside these abandoned structures, and finds things like this old mattress.” The title says it all: no one has slept on this mattress in a while.
Like many of the works in the exhibition, Templeton’s print seems to be influenced by the Canadian landscape. And, like the others, it’s fairly large: four and a half feet by two and a third feet.
“Honestly, we tell students they don’t have to create something big,” says Jule. He should talk: Jule’s print in the exhibition, measuring five and a half feet by three feet, isn’t exactly miniature art.
When pressed for another possible explanation of the scale of the prints aside from environmental influences, Jule says with a smile: “We have big presses here.”
Lines of Site runs through April 6. The Sherman Gallery is on the second floor of the George Sherman Union. Gallery hours are Tuesdays through Fridays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.bu.edu/cfa, or call 617-353-3349.