ITHACA, NY -- Members’ group exhibitions have long anchored the show calendar at Ithaca’s Ink Shop Printmaking Center. Over the years, I have reviewed many of these. The mixture of the familiar and the new that they embody continues to reassure us of the vitality of local art — a particular pleasure now given the uncertainties of the past few seasons.
The center’s exhibition, which opened this month and remains up indefinitely, is characteristically well put together. Unfortunately, it feels constricted, spread out between the two rooms of the Shop’s second floor walkup. (Past group shows have made use of the Community School of Music and Arts’ space downstairs, which is not currently possible.) A sister display, currently at Leidenfrost Vineyards in Hector, NY, is recommended for anybody interested in contemporary printmaking.
I have long felt that the Shop’s print shows might benefit from an occasional infusion of drawings and other “works on paper.”
A pair of paintings on paper by new member Melissa Conroy fulfills this promise with luscious and playful results. Conroy, a lecturer at Cornell in textile design, brings a love of texture and repetition to her abstract paintings. The larger, unframed watercolor “On a Collision Course” and its companion gouache “That Was an Interesting Conversation” feature clusters of cell-like circles in tantalizing, translucent shades of red and purple.
Another artist new to the Shop, Julianne Hunter teaches in Cornell’s art department. She is showing several of her small “Remnants” from her 2017 MFA thesis show at SUNY New Paltz. Combining photo-etched imagery of her abandoned childhood home with sculptural manipulations of the paper, these are haunting, evocative works. It is welcome to see an extended series in a show where most members are represented with one or two works — a sampling approach, which often leaves one wanting more.
Several of the Shop’s longstanding members contribute excellent work in their characteristic styles and media. I do not tire of seeing these artists do what they do best.
Both Christa Wolf and Craig Mains are masters of monotype. Wolf’s painterly, animistic landscapes writhe with chalky lines and watercolor-like strokes and washes. Two square format prints, “Summer Time V” and the particularly striking “Sommer Wind II” memorably evoke the classic Finger Lakes setting: high above the waters, unseen but distinctly felt, grapevines or trees dancing and exploding in the foreground.
Mains’ unique prints combine a collage-like manipulation of cutout shapes with painterly, often abraded-looking textures — drawn from the subsequent “ghost” images taken from an already printed template. His “Gender Reveal Over” trilogy here takes a typically sardonic look at the all-American fascination with spectacle and disaster. Recalling Pop-adjacent but independent-minded artists like Robert Rauschenberg and Ed Ruscha, his theme with variations is like a wordless comic strip. A billowing cloud of smoke — here cyan, there dark gray — rises above a scene in silhouettes of earth tones and black: scattered flames, a van, picnic tables, a distant house in the desert. It’s a boy! – alas.
Other Shop mainstays here are just as good or nearly so. Kumi Korf’s painterly intaglio print “Interior, Purple Fruits” (from 2013, a markedly older piece) is a biomorphic abstraction in her signature poetic style. It combines confident, calligraphic brushstrokes and overlaid subdued tones. Gregory Page’s dense black lithographic fern-scape “Motifs from the National Botanic Gardens, Dublin, Ireland” recalls traditions of specimen display and collage. Combining monotype with photo emulsion transfer, photographer Jari Poulin’s three small prints here continue her exploration of portraiture and symbolic objecthood, seen in her recent local show “Senses in Animate.”
Inevitably, not everything here is up to the level of the show’s standout artists. For instance: I’ve never felt comfortable with the feel of Rebecca Godin’s digital photo-manipulations — especially printed on canvas, as two are here. Likewise, Pat Hunsinger’s mixed-technique “Yellow Crowned Night Heron” continues her ecological explorations in an exuberant but seemingly overwrought profusion of color and pattern. Compare the latter with Jenny Pope’s color woodcut “Chinampa,” an homage to Mesoamerican agriculture, which fully inhabits its “all-over” textures and camouflaged plant and animal figures.
This is a fine little exhibition, professionally hung and highlighting the Ink Shop’s diverse and talented roster. An anthology of little worlds rather than a fully cohesive statement, this — only the Shop’s second new show of the year — is nonetheless a decent comeback.