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Star Power: Sol LeWitt's stars are a little bit Moorish, a little bit rock and roll.

Paper Trails

SMOVA's traveling 'Under Pressure' exhibit makes its mark

By Gretchen Giles

Printmaker David Lasry is an inveterate collaborator, even partnering up with artists without their knowledge. Owner of New York's Two Palms Press, Lasry is concerned with drawing out the print potentials of those who have never used the medium. And so when star painter Chuck Close repeatedly ignored his invitations to work together, Lasry simply appropriated one of Close's paintings. Anecdote reports that when he sent the print to Close with a note explaining this is what he could do for him, the artist phoned Lasry the very next day.

Two of the resulting prints from this collaboration were to have been famous self-portraits of Close, screens of his recognizable squared-off representational abstracts, work that is just color up-close but clear image from a distance. Imagine the Sonoma Museum of Visual Arts staff's surprise when they uncrated Close's work the other day to discover that instead of Chuck, they had Phil.

Two Palms had sent the wrong work. But not to worry. Now part of this traveling exhibition titled "Under Pressure: Prints from the Two Palms Press," running through July 27 (the first show of this size and stature to be exhibited at the SMOVA), the two prints of Phil are darn nice, too.

Featuring a sum total of seven years of collaboration with 12 established artists, including Close, Kiki Smith, Terry Winters, and Sol LeWitt, "Under Pressure" comes to the North Bay after two years on the road, most recently stopping over at New York's Cooper Union. And in some respects, its arrival puts the small stamp of Sonoma onto the national map.

"It's a step into a world of art headliners," says SMOVA executive director Gay Dawson. "We really wanted to increase our commitment to bringing art to Sonoma County, to a part of our conversation about the national scene. It also increases our curatorial resources," she laughs, "because I don't have to go out and find all of the work and bring it back myself."

But Dawson did go out and bring back the work of four local artists--Frank Ryan, Claude Smith, Jennifer Sturgill, and Mario Uribe--for the companion exhibit "Innovations in Printmaking from Sonoma County," showing concurrently in the Atrium and Passage galleries. Other than Sturgill, who is a master printmaker with San Francisco's Aurobora Press, none of the other three are primarily printmakers, presenting them the fresh challenge that was also Lasry's approach.

Translation is perhaps the best metaphor for taking work created in one medium and producing it within the elastic limits of print techniques. For example, New York artist Jennifer Stockholder ordinarily creates found-object installations. While working with Lasry, she managed to sneak such items as orange peels and shag carpeting into her prints.

Former Two Palms employee Pedro Barbeito makes bas-relief three-dimensional ovals reminiscent of the Starship Enterprise were it to fly overhead. And LeWitt's famous multipointed stars, each printed individually per his written instructions--like a brain in a jar, LeWitt conducts his work but never actually produces it himself--are a special treat to see.

For followers of the home scene, the work of Ryan, Smith, Sturgill, and Uribe is a fortunate collective. Ryan, who is 24, immensely gifted, and capable of innocently stirring up much brouhaha from sniffers and supporters alike as to whether his work merits the attention it's received, is off to UCLA grad school this fall so won't be here to kick around much longer. Uribe's masterful Zen meditations on the circle resonate with a palimpsest of color, and regarding Sturgill's novelistic overlays of woodblock, collage, and drawing is like gratefully plunging into a favorite read.

Perhaps most exciting, Smith has taken his populist "G-Spot" survey, in which he enlisted his Graton neighbors in the participatory pleasure he feels in creating art, has reappeared as a oversized four-panel print that's abstracted and expanded since first exhibited at the now-defunct MeSH Gallery last fall.

The artists working with Lasry often came up with entirely new techniques in the printing process. Minimalist painter Mel Bochner, whose work examines the ordered structure of mathematics and language, utilizes the first task of a press, that of lettering. In his monoprint If the Color Changes, a babble of overlaid German and English words, only the final warning phrase is clear: "One did not observe"--a mistake one is certain not to make in viewing the collective "Under Pressure."


'Under Pressure: Print Works from Two Palms Press' and 'Innovations in Printmaking from Sonoma County' show through July 27. A reception is slated for Saturday, May 24, 5-7pm. Free. Sonoma Museum of Visual Art, at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Museum hours are Wednesday-Saturday, 10am-4pm; Sunday, 1-4pm. Admission is $5; free to members. 707.527.0297.

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From the May 22-28, 2003 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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