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True Monotypes


Monotype is the humblest of printmaking disciplines; you use a plate without permanent features, apply ink or paint, then print. It’s also the most variable because the marks you apply to the plate and the marks that result in printing often vary wildly. In many monotypes, the artist’s hand shows itself in the final print as both highly pronounced and curiously flattened (by the literal pressure of the printing press). Great artists of the medium rise to the improvisatory heights it inspires. In doing so, those you may know better as, say, painters often reveal—even to themselves—unexpected facets of their thought processes and visual language.   

Michael Mazur, “(Untitled) Palette and Red Roller,” (1977). Monotype, 42 1/2 × 51 1/2˝. Edition: Courtesy of the Estate of Michael Mazur and RYAN LEE, New York.

True Monotypes, curated by Janice Oresman, is part of International Print Center New York’s 15th anniversary programming and features 51 prints by 39 artists (18 women, 21 men). Press materials say that the show includes emerging and established artists, yet all but one or two are well-known in printmaking spheres or as stars of the wider art world, among them Romare Bearden, Cecily Brown, Carroll Dunham, Jasper Johns, Joyce Kozloff, Elizabeth Peyton, Susan Rothenberg, Dana Schutz, and Lisa Yuskavage. The majority of artists are painters as much as or more than printmakers. Although the gallery is overhung, the many exemplary works make their presence felt.

Michael Mazur’s “(Untitled) Palette and Red Roller” (1977) seems from afar like a realistic depiction of printmaking tools, but when you look closely it’s amazing how economically he achieved such form—through straightforward swaths of brushed and rolled color with minimal but strategic erasures. Likewise, through spontaneous-looking yet spot-on splattering, brushing, and wiping, he made the ground appear to shift between something as solid as a tabletop and as infinite as the cosmos. “Running Monkey 4” (1979) features black and white painted and erased gestures that match the muscular authority of his subject. The monotype feels perfectly complete, but if you know Mazur’s paintings of the era you also see the print as a quick, useful casting call.

In Kate McCrickard’s four untitled prints (each 2012) kids are the risky subject, but don’t worry. The unabashed physicality of children is a metaphor for her art-making. She’s vigorously brushed, wiped, and scratched into black, gray, and red color, achieving remarkable tone, pattern, space, and relationships of form to content. In one print, three bigger kids are all absorption and busy hands as a smaller kid or doll lies on its back, hanging head-first off the big kids’ work surface, and has the top of its head lopped off by the bottom of the print. McCrickard’s cropping rivals that of Degas, who’s evident throughout show, like an inspiring ghost. 

Lisa Yuskavage combines monotype and hand-drawn pastel, Degas-like, in two works of The Countryside series (2013). In the foreground of both are groups of her signature gals, clustered around a tree on a hillside, overlooking a valley.  Because of variations—so expedient to make with monotype and pastel—the two prints give off very different sensations (and show a sensitivity of touch that isn’t as noticeable in her oil paintings). One scene is vibrantly colored, crisply lit, windy, and mountainous, with the figures pressing boldly forward. The other is more diffuse, maybe rainy, of flatter terrain, and the figures hang relatively farther back, though in a provocative way, because what’s that one figure’s hand doing to the ass of another?

Innovating with the plate is another possibility in monotype. (Conventional plates are copper or Plexiglass. Copper offers a chance element; chemical reactions can make the color on the plate and the printed color totally different.) In “Untitled W-16,” (1989) Charles Arnoldi printed torn bits of plywood, composing an abstract, fractured space and embossing the well-chosen heavy paper. Mary Frank’s printing surface includes stencils, with which she created a collage effect and wonderful contrasts of opacity and texture (“Black Figure and Running Horses,” ca. 1980).

Kate McCrickard, “Untitled 14,” (2012). Monotype, 7 1/2 × 9 1/2˝. Courtesy David Krut Projects.

Several kinds of reversals come into play in printmaking. Not only is the print a mirror image of the plate, but the under layers of pigment on the plate are topmost in the print. This shakes up painters’ processes, as do the effects of the press. In monotypes by Joellyn Duesberry and Paul DeRuvo, the artists paint convincing representational space, but the surface of the print is tremendously flattened in the printing process, resulting in spatial tensions.

You could object to the overstuffing of True Monotypes and that its title is inaccurate, as it includes monoprints by seven artists. (Monoprints use both matrix and hand-added elements, while monotypes are matrix-less.) More culling of the show could have been done, as seems the case with perfunctory prints by Rita Ackermann, Eddie Martinez, and Susan Rothenberg. As for the monotype versus monoprint issue, maybe the curator felt that distinctions can be blurry and ultimately don’t matter, though I think they do. Still, it’s good to see Joyce Kozloff’s navigational-map-like monoprints and consider them in relation to her current show, Maps + Patterns, at DC Moore Gallery. And who could possibly take issue with the inclusion of a great Jasper Johns monoprint? His modus operandi in all of his disciplines is one of the most exhaustive investigations in contemporary art of just what this show at its best celebrates. To quote Johns, “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”


Mary Proenza


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2015

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