When Tom Antista, an Atlanta-based artist who co-owns a successful design firm, was looking for someone to take his black-and-white photographs of Manhattan's urban cityscape and turn them into an edition of photogravures, he hit a snag.
"I had tried a printer in Los Angeles, and unfortunately the results from what they were doing just didn't stack up to my vision of what the gravures could be," Antista said by phone from his office in Atlanta.
A referral led him to Tampa — and to Bleu Acier, the studio of Erika Greenberg-Schneider, a printmaker who has mastered the temperamental process. (At USF's Graphicstudio from 1998-2002, she produced photogravures with artists including Chuck Close, Graciela Iturbide, and Kiki Smith.) Schneider carefully etched Antista's digital images into copper plates, then coaxed prints — sublime, light-intensive renditions of New York's iconic architecture, including the Empire State Building and the Guggenheim Museum — from their ink-coated surfaces. At times it took months of tinkering to get an image just right, but in the end the pairing proved to be a match made in heaven.
"Through our working relationship, it became apparent that we were pushing the envelope with these images," Antista explained. "Knowing that she's a master printer anyway tells me that we really came up with, I think, a really wonderful edition."
The fantastic results of their yearlong project are on display in New Editions, a showcase of more than a half-dozen recent collaborations between Schneider and the artists who swear by her printmaking chops. If you've heard before that Bleu Acier is an atelier (the French term for a printmaking studio) as well as a contemporary art gallery but never really understood what that means, now is the time to appreciate the transformative magic that takes place inside Schneider's converted Tampa Heights warehouse. And for the first time in a long while, the printmaker will be opening her studio up for a backstage glimpse of various processes.
On Sat., June 23, Debra Jo Radke, a local artist and teacher who curates the gallery at TECO Plaza in downtown Tampa, will demonstrate how to make a monoprint, the method she and Schneider have spent two years — on and off — working on together. The technique, which involves painting with ink on a Plexiglas plate, then printing the image to paper, suits Radke's practice of combining colors, shapes and textures drawn from her own abstract snapshots of nature. In the exhibit, USF professor Elisabeth Condon's swirling landscapes, each a careful study in color relationships, are made the same way.
This Saturday, June 16, Dominique Labauvie, Schneider's husband, known for his graceful forged metal sculptures, takes center stage to showcase recent work in relief printing. Specifically, Labauvie has been cutting abstract figures, often floating in the clouds or engaged in a kind of acrobatic dance, into plywood and letting the prominent wood grain show through on prints in vivid blues, reds and yellows. He's part of a cadre of established French artists, including Vicky Columbet and Herve Di Rosa, who rely on Bleu Acier for prints.
Also in the show is guest artist Brian Reedy, from Miami's Dorsch Galley, whose sci-fi and comic-book-inspired woodcuts, though not produced at Bleu Acier, are sure to be a hit. Marie Yoho Dorsey, a Bleu Acier regular, puts a contemporary spin on Japanese landscape painting, sewing embracing figures into the foreground of direct gravure mountain landscapes. And Steve McClure, a 1995 USF grad now based in New York, who will have a solo show at the gallery in September, exhibits his latest work in monotypes and paintings based on vintage photography.
"I've worked with other print places, which will remain unnamed," McClure said. "[Schneider] spends time with the artist and gets to know what's essential about the artist's work. ... [Elsewhere] it's more about production."
Just as the hatchet seems poised to fall on public funding for the arts, a private developer has been particularly conscientious about fulfilling its obligation to downtown Tampa's public art landscape.
Last week, Novare-intown — a joint venture between Atlanta's Novare Group and Tampa's intowngroup — installed a new public art project at SkyPoint, the glass-and-concrete tower whose completion some are seeing as the critical component for adding residents to downtown Tampa. (For the doubters: SkyPoint's debut coincides with the arrival of downtown's first stand-alone Starbucks, to be located at the southwest corner of Tampa and Jackson streets in the space currently occupied by the Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, which will relocate next door.)
Pedestrians and drivers down Ashley Drive last week began noticing the two cascades of blue-and-white light boxes flanking the condominium's entrance. By day, the aluminum-and-industrial-plastic boxes subtly blend into the building's skin; at night, LEDs inside light up and animate in a spectrum of colors.
While downtown developers are required to set aside some of the project's budget for public art — to the tune of .75 percent or $200,000, whichever is less — few developers undertake the effort of commissioning an original piece. The developers of Skypoint took the savvy step of hiring someone to run the project for them, said Robin Nigh, who manages the city's public art program.
To shepherd the project, Novare-intown chose Carrie Mackin, then owner of Covivant Gallery in Seminole Heights. Mackin, who closed her gallery and relocated to New York City last year, helped launch a public call for artists. The winning proposal was submitted by Sara Stracey, 30, a Columbia University master of fine arts student who has lived in Tampa and works for the experimental art and architecture firm SITE in New York.
Stracey's computer-programmed light boxes appealed as a complement to the city's Lights on Tampa program, said intowngroup's Greg Minder. By coincidence, Stanley Saitowitz, the architect for the new Tampa Museum of Art, which is scheduled to be built directly across Ashley Street from SkyPoint, has proposed using the same technology — computer-programmed LEDs — on a larger scale integrated into the museum's façade. Minder serves on the museum's board of trustees.
Stracey, whose design work at SITE includes a concept for a private residence in India with a rain-gathering roof that sends waterfalls down the sides of the multistory building, hopes the project creates an interactive transition between the building and street life, making SkyPoint a part of the community.