Williamson Galley Features Women & Print Show

Dancing figures fade and coalesce across a screen in the entryway of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery at the Sept. 13 opening celebration of the newest exhibition, Women and Print. Bright, multi-dimensional prints are splashed across white walls, and guests mingle with artists as they admire their pieces. 

Although it may seem unfitting to introduce an exhibition that showcases works by printmakers with a digital animation, part of the purpose of this collection is to disprove the notion that print media is confined to standard methods.

“People think printmaking is only traditional processes like etching or lithography, and what this exhibition shows is that artists are now working not only in those traditional ways but also in new ways with digital imagery, and they are combining them into hybrid mixtures of different processes,” Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery director Mary MacNaughton said. 

Prints have traditionally been crafted by etching, a method that cuts lines into metal with acid, and lithography, which is done by drawing on stone or metal plate with oil. The use of computers in the last 20 years, though, has greatly expanded the scope of printmaking, according to Kirk Delman, the collections manager.

“You can draw and scan images, and then manipulate them in a variety of ways,” Delman said. 

This digital platform opens up an entirely new toolbox for printmakers to create and experiment with. It also allows artists to conceptualize their work on-screen before committing to paper.

On the afternoon of the exhibit's opening, J. Catherine Bebout, Bernice Ficek-Swenson, Nancy Friese and Rita Robillard, all Women and Print artists, held the “Digital Technologies and Printmaking” symposium at the Boone Recital Hall to expose students to how technological advancements have expanded the realm of printmaking. 

The exhibition encompasses an extensive range of printmaking methods in its 66 works by 27 artists, from copper engraving to laser printing to silk screening. The artists also integrated a wide variety of materials into their work, including embroidery thread, crystals and chine-collé, a method of incorporating thin colored tissues onto paper. 

Ellen Gallagher, who has a 60-piece portfolio showcased on a single wall in the exhibition, used tattoo machine engraving to add new dimension to her work.

“Printmaking has always been important to our studio art program,” MacNaughton said. “For our students who are studying prints, we want them to see that you can put things together in fresh combinations, and here are examples of some of the best artists doing exactly that.” 

The artists include a number of themes in the exhibition, including identity, nature and science. While aesthetically beautiful, the prints also reflect a greater meaning.

“A lot of the artists’ work stems from who they are and where they come from,” said Eliza Lewis, SC ’17, an intern at the gallery. Lewis wrote the wall texts that accompany each piece. She explained that the research she conducted was mainly focused on learning about each artist as a person, since background and perspective inform their creative work. 

Barbara Robertson, an artist in the show, drew heavily on science for inspiration. Her pieces evoke a certain tension through the juxtaposition of soft pastels with darkly lined geometric shapes.

“My influences conceptually are physics, astronomy and lately neuroscience,” Robertson said. “There’s so much going on in neuroscience right now. I read and listen to interviews, and it gives me ideas about space and composition.”

Robertson's artistic process is multifaceted and begins when something catches her eye. It could be an image of light, a diagram, she explained, or even something she likes on a website. Then she photographs or draws it and decides what she wants to add.

“What would talk to it?” Robertson said. “What would either be the opposite of it, or extend it, or give some kind of meaning to it? And then I just start putting things together.”

Robertson also likes to layer multiple techniques to achieve greater complexity.

“[My prints are] not all digital because I like the surface to be a little richer than the digital print, because it’s so flat," Robertson said. "I paint and draw and do collage on top.”

One of the exhibition's main goals is to provide exposure for women artists within an international scope. The artists were selected from across the country, as well as Greece and Dubai, to represent some of the finest talents in printmaking. Some artists, such as Alison Saar SC '78, have close ties to the college, while others, like Alyson Shotz, who uses digitally manipulated photographs of her own sculptures in her prints, were invited for the first time.

“At Scripps, we are always trying to increase the visibility of women artists,” Delman said. “In museum exhibitions and museum collections, women still aren’t being well represented. So it’s really just a small contribution.”

The Women and Print exhibit will run until Oct. 19 in the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery.