Ink Shop

Founded in 1999, the Ink Shop Printmaking Center has been, for two decades, one of the workhorses of Ithaca’s independent visual arts community. First filling a former airplane factory, the collaborative was for many years a fixture on the corner of State and Cayuga Streets. A fire in early 2008 forced a move across the Commons to their current location on East State Street, upstairs from the Community School of Music and Arts. 

On display through January 24, “20/20 Hindsight | 20 Years in Prints and Books” provides a rare look back at the Ink Shop’s history. It features prints, books, and ephemera by current and former Shop members, students and exhibiting artists. A profuse installation, it fills the walls of their second-floor walkup space as well as the back corridor of the CSMA below. 

The two-room space upstairs is a working print studio: an office in the front with presses, tables and storage towards the back. The necessity of packing-in work inspires a heterodox installation. 

Two walls have been papered by exhibition posters—the work of resident graphic designer Craig Mains. Another break from the convention of framed pieces neatly spaced comes from a Salon-style hanging of disparate small prints. 

Perhaps the best thing about “20/20” is seeing artists rarely shown here. This is particularly striking in pieces by two virtuosic, visionary etchers.

The late Zevi Blum (1933-2011), a long-time Cornell professor, is known for his satirical, magical realist etchings. Floating on a wavy sea, a procession of bathysphere-like objects traverse his “Life’s Voyage.” Poised atop them are men and women—and one three-legged bird person—in floridly medieval-looking costumes: dancing, juggling, or standing solemnly. 

Similarly, Pennsylvanian Grant Silverstein filters traditional European figuration through contemporary irony. While Blum’s crisp, linear approach recalls Northern Renaissance engravers like Dürer and Lucas Cranach the Elder, Silverstein pays homage to the more expressionistic intaglio tradition of Rembrandt, Goya, and James Ensor. 

Silverstein is a master miniaturist. A stamp-sized piece, “chance-found book” is characteristically witty. Seen in profile, a woman fits herself into a cramped space: her head against a ceiling vault section, one of her bare feet against an opposite wall. She holds an open book in her hands but her attention is elsewhere—perhaps on holding her mannered pose.   

Other anchors of “20/20” are familiar mainstays of the cooperative, showing work both old and recent. 

Local portrait photographer Jari Poulin has turned from her commercial work in recent years: notably with several series focused on female dancers. “Helping Hands” makes use of her signature polymer photogravure technique for its bluish, blurred, rough-textured tonality. Recalling a more physical take on Michelangelo’s famed Sistine Chapel image, two figures meet arm-in-arm in free-floating space.

Trained as an architect and painter, Kumi Korf’s mixed-method intaglio prints recall the calligraphic tradition of her native Japan as well as the legacy of twentieth-century modernism. She is generously represented here—notably by three larger pieces dating back to 2002. “Alpha,” “Beta,” and “Gamma” feature brushy forms, silhouetted against lighter, solidly-colored fields. Recalling flowers or leaves, these “figures” have something of the spare elegance of a Miro or Matisse. 

Korf memorably joins surface to structure in her sculptural artist’s books. “Hole in my Heart” plays homage to classical Japanese women’s poetry while fellow members Christa Wolf and Judy Barringer employ distinctively Korf-ian book-forms and mixed-media to their own expressive and narrative ends.

Unlike museums, most galleries focus on the new and recent. It’s rare for a local one to stage a retrospective. This year brought two significant downtown gallery anniversaries. The State of the Art celebrated its 30th year with a two-part “Members Show” at the gallery earlier this year as well as a separate presentation at the CSMA. The current Ink Shop show follows a ten year celebration in 2010 and a long history of self-archiving.

Both galleries’ commemorations have featured generally strong art with plenty of welcome surprises. It’s worth noting the difference in presentation: while the SOAG hewed to cleanly formal installations, the Shop’s more effusive style captures the cooperative’s working character as well as the capacity for print to cross the realms of gallery art and popular visual culture. It’s a cause for contemplation and pleasure—and for some of us, considerable nostalgia.

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