That Old Black Magic

Five artists use the inky art of printmaking to tell their stories.

click to enlarge TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON: A tornado cuts a swath through a small town in "The Storm," by Patrick Lindhardt. - Courtesy C. Emerson Fine Arts
Courtesy C. Emerson Fine Arts
TROUBLE ON THE HORIZON: A tornado cuts a swath through a small town in "The Storm," by Patrick Lindhardt.

Farwell, Minnesota doesn't sound like the kind of place anybody would want to call home.

During the last 30 years, the isolated prairie town has grown into a sprawling burg worthy of the insult "urban blight." About a decade ago, fires ravaged buildings so badly that residents tried to escape on a giant blimp. And recently, a half dozen tornadoes hit the town in one fell swoop, destroying a drive-in theater, among other landmarks.

Still, people in the town stay put, perhaps because they are hardy Minnesotans. Or maybe it's the only place they can imagine calling home.

Actually, the residents of Farwell have no choice but to stay. They exist — as does their doomed and blighted burg — at the whim of one man: Patrick Lindhardt, master printer and instructor at Ringling School of Art and Design.

His latest images depicting life in his fictional town are part of a diverse and engaging exhibit of prints at C. Emerson Fine Arts by five artists who have known each other for nearly 20 years. The artists use a wide variety of techniques to achieve utterly different visual effects, but their work has a common thread: telling stories.

Of the five, Lindhardt spins the biggest yarns. Thirty years ago, he bade his home state, Minnesota, goodbye to join the staff of the then-new USF Graphicstudio. Since then, he's transformed Farwell (a play on Farewell, Minnesota) into his own personal Lake Wobegon. He returns to it again and again as subject matter, whether making intricate books with text and tiny mezzotint illustrations or larger stand-alone monotypes like the ones in this exhibit.

At Graphicstudio, Lindhardt climbed the ranks for six years, literally starting with a broom and eventually becoming a master printer versed in a wide variety of techniques. When the facility temporarily ran out of funding, he was able to open his own Flatstone Studio with the help of artist James Rosenquist, whose work he printed regularly for a decade and still collaborates with from time to time.

Over the years, he has populated Farwell with old and new friends — including one of the other artists in the show.

That's Johnnie Lee Scott, a printmaker from North Carolina. Scott and Lindhardt met 18 years ago at Wildacres, an artists' retreat in the mountains of North Carolina affiliated with Ringling. Artists converge there each year to hone their printmaking and other artistic skills in a bucolic setting. The artists in the show have all taught or taken classes (sometimes both) at Wildacres, and recall getting to know each other there.

Scott, the only non-Floridian in the group, is quick to say she learned everything she knows from Lindhardt. Between classes at Wildacres and spring workshops at Ringling (a past tradition now gone), she mastered the technique of Polaroid transfers, which she now teaches in her home state. Scott's prints, which have the faded patina of aged photographs, explore the everyman's cultural history museum found in antique and thrift stores. One whimsical image alights on a cardboard cutout of John Wayne seated amidst furniture and trinkets in one shop.

Wendy Dickinson, a Ringling instructor and USF researcher who also escapes to Wildacres for the occasional workshop, takes the most abstract approach in the group to telling a story. Her 4-foot-tall collagraph prints repeat a windmill shape inspired by a friend who lost a long struggle with breast cancer. While carpooling together from Sarasota to USF, Dickinson and her friend regularly saw an actual windmill along their route. Depicted here in vibrant colors that cycle from cool grass green to the burning red of a sun, the symbol serves as a remembrance and celebration of the departed friend.

Like Lindhardt, Jean Blackburn — who has taught at Ringling, Manatee Community College and the University of Oregon — tells tales that are drawn from a personal mythology. In her black-and-white linocuts, a stodgy-looking guy — probably a CPA in real life, the artist jokes — takes off on a fantastical flight with some of the planet's non-human creatures. If you've seen her colorful monotypes at the Wild Oats Market in downtown Sarasota — the originals hang in the dining room and an enlarged version transferred to tiles adorns the exterior of the store — you know their magical, fairy-tale quality.

Joseph Loccisano, a current instructor at MCC, takes the most realistic approach to the figure in the show. His people, whether in landscape or portrait, emit a wistful feeling through painterly gestures that create deep-set eyes, a delicate clavicle or the slump of pensive shoulders.

If you are a lover of printmaking or, conversely, don't know much about its various techniques, the show is a must-see as a primer of sorts of its less common forms. Two traditional forms of printmaking — lithography and intaglio — are underrepresented while monotypes and relief prints shine, and unusual materials like canvas and metal (rather than paper) blur the line between printmaking, painting and sculpture.

Lindhart uses the monotype process, which allows the artist to make, essentially, a painting on a plate and impress it onto paper. To create the pitch-black sky of tornado-terrorized Farwell, he starts by covering an entire plate with black ink, then uses rags, brushes, and sticks to wipe the ink away, leaving behind the white funnel of a twister or a picket fence. The end product captures some of the spontaneous energy of sketching and painting, but retains the characteristic inky depth of the "black art" of printmaking.

Both Dickinson and Blackburn use relief printing techniques, where a raised surface (analogous to a stamp) is created and coated with ink, then run through a press onto paper — or canvas, in Dickinson's case. Her collagraphs begin as a drawing of a windmill shape in gooey carpenter's glue on a wooden panel. The raised surface of the glue drawing presses the image of a windmill onto the canvas, then Dickinson paints even more layers of impressionistic color on afterwards. Blackburn uses a linocut process, similar to woodcut, but created by carving into a piece of linoleum.

The exhibit takes place at C. Emerson Fine Arts, which a year after opening its doors is shaping up to be one of the most interesting contemporary art venues in the area. Now we can thank them for rendering printmaking a bit more accessible.

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