The face as subject is not as simple as it first appears, for it stands for the central sense organs, the most complex way humans have of accepting input. In our case, we use eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and skin with taste, hearing, vision, touch and smell serving as our receptors to gauge information. Whereas fingerprints are often the best way to identify individuals scientifically, the face is the feature which best distinguishes a person practically. Even when discussing inanimate objects (architecture or artwork, for example), we use the term face to describe the front surface that an audience looks at, as that is the place we go to look to identify an object.
The printmaking medium has a rich history, one that includes a multitude of technical choices and artistic style. As a companion to this exhibit, the history of printmaking is told through RAM’s permanent collection in the Posters, Prints and Propaganda exhibit currently on view in the Members Gallery of the museum. As much or more so than any other artistic tradition, printmaking is a medium that reflects process. In About Face, 18 printmakers have used their interpretation of the face as the spark of their creative work, with each artist approaching their work with their own process, sometimes drawing on the idea of “about face” meaning a 180-degree turn or even one’s personalized idea about the nature of face itself.
In the series Prayer Surrogates I-IV by Michael Bernbaum, the artist has approached the making of his images as if he was a monk, humbly and mindfully. Through the act of printing and the worshipful devotion to that action, the works reveal themselves. They are visual remnants of the prayer-like, repetitive printing process that is a part of the printmaking tradition. In this transposition of the meditative act, with the physical action of printing, the work manifests its iconic identity as an abstracted shape printed in ink on paper. Repetition is a motif in the work of Chick Curtis as well, but unlike Bernbaum, his images’ forms, styles and colors vary between prints. Each image seems to be its own story, but with holes and abstractions left for the viewer to piece together.
Other artwork can be sparked by a momentary flash of inspiration, a process less connected to repetition and mindfulness and more to intuition. In Paul, artist Sharon Zorn-Katz started to sketch in her organizer while waiting at the Laundromat. Zorn-Katz is interested in glances of people going about their real lives. The work on display shows a snippet of time in a longer story about her subject’s life. Deborah Kotaka’s artwork also references a fleeting moment, a figure with face obscured sliding into the anonymity and repetition of one’s daily paper.
Black humor punctuates the series of works by Marlaina Mortati. Her imagery suggests simultaneously comic undertones with poverty-stricken people or situations requiring ingenuity, referencing depression-era situations and imagery with recession-era relevance. The work of Pauline Geerlings and Alberto Varela likewise reflects humanity in a dark situation but has a more optimistic (if muted) outlook. In the former, a smeary clouded face partially obscured features an all-seeing eye with a bright red ribbon. Geerlings’ work features a distorted, almost caricatured head, but a heart optimistically poking through the thick mess.
In contrast, you can’t help but smile at My Girl by Judy Davies, a large figure that seems to invite you in with her bright hair and wide eyes. The work of Jenelle Lowry has a light-hearted though still heavy approach in How Many Ways… In this work and in Forge, the face is missing key ingredients, leading to a feeling of playfulness tempered with melancholia. Jill Jones’ works Trepidation and Deep Embarkation use a repeated figure of dark, compelling eyes as a repeated matrix on two very different works.
Adeola Davies-Aiyeloja and Donna Bamford feature multiple faces within their works. In Bamford’s case, these could be different figures or different views of the same face, while Davies-Aiyeloja shows joy through color, stroke and recurrence of imagery. Through blended colors and expressionistic strokes, Sioux Bally-Maloof’s works show a range of emotion, both separating the viewer from the subject yet creating empathy for them. The muted palette of the figure in Patty Hayden’s Beauty in Hawaii stands in stark contrast to the bright background she stands in front of, referencing the beauty of the environment as much as the figure.
The artwork of Cathi Calhoun and Mary Grinyer are very personalized depictions of faces of history, bright and iconic in the work of Calhoun, or alluding to family and the veil of the past accumulation of life in the work of Grinyer. Some printmakers have a more photo-realistic approach to their work. Jan Harvey photographs people in moments of deep emotion, ultimately letting the printmaking process texture her prints, allowing in both detailed beauty and grit in the individual grains.
Most printmakers create work in two dimensions. After all, printmaking is a physical process that uses a plate to create a (usually) 2D impression. Ann Bingham-Freeman has rejected the norm and created complex walking-around prints reconfigured for the 3 dimensions of a real head and face. These prints embody the feeling of a face, not only its physical form, but its emotion as well.
Ultimately, it is emotion which holds the viewer. With each printmaker’s own style and technique, their individualized approach allow for a multitude of readings. Whether through repetition, expression, realism, or abstraction, these artists have crafted images that give form to face, to its variety of expression and identity.
The printmakers of About Face are members of Printmakers Network at RAM, a networking group serving printmakers across the Inland Empire. It works to promote and educate people about printmaking, give support to printmakers, increase educational and exhibition opportunities for printmakers, and to provide a venue to share art work, techniques, and information. Printmakers of all skill levels are invited to join.