The principles of reproduction, repeatability and dissemination play an important part in the successes of social and political activism, propaganda, and information. Since the inventions of the printing press in the mid-1400’s, people have turned to the printing press to inform, educate and persuade the greater public, especially about religion and politics and the transgressions of the powerful, the rich.
In spite of the current pandemic restrictions and inspired by the recent social unrest and protests, June 12thbrought the beginning of a timely and germane print project at RBR Gallery on Vinton Street, Visual Voices: Community of Ideas | Community of Prints.
This workshop/exhibit is the brainchild of Gallery Director John Rogers. The event is not exactly a standard workshop, however. Community members are invited to come in and produce a hand pulled print of their own design, inspired by a social issue of their choice.
Visual Voices, Jerique, “A Reason to Live” July 2020-2The print-making sessions started on opening night in June and are on-going through August 14. The gallery advises calling ahead to assure a time, but walk-ins are welcome as time permits. Several press stations are ready to go; Gallery Director John Rogers will be on hand to provide direction and instruction on how to make a print from the various presses. Rogers has obtained and restored several types of printing presses for the gallery.
Though reproduceable printing can be traced as far back as Mesopotamian letter punches from 3000 BC, and woodblock printing from 2nd century China, it was not until the 15th century that new technology of reproduction printing ushered in the modern era of printing.
In 1788, William Blake invented a process of acid relief etching on copper, giving him the freedom to print his poetry and illustrations from one plate, foregoing the use of moveable type. It was a decision born from necessity, as he was not a rich man. His work coincided with development of stone lithography, a process of repeatable printing from a limestone plate, or matrix. Both of these events set the stage for the reproduction printing of images and drawings.
Much of Blake’s poetry alludes to the abuses of class power, war, the plight of the worker. He was one of the first to produce socially conscious, activist poetry and etchings that combined illustrative imagery with the written word as a single piece of art.
The hand-pulled, artist’s print has for decades been an important part of RBR Gallery’s image. First established as Gallery 72, under the direction of Rogers’ mother and father, Roberta and Bob, the Gallery devoted its energies primarily to the collection of fine prints, limited editions, and monoprints. Their collection is extensive, and the printmaking legacy continues as RBR Gallery, with son John at the helm.
Rogers said that his current exhibit is unusual because “it is created by the viewers, created by our community. Just people that want to express themselves on issues they feel are important and relevant today.”
So far, participants have ranged in age from 11 to octogenarian, representing a spectrum of the community that includes people from four other states. Some are practicing artists and some not. The only requirement being that each participant find a current social issue to serve as their subject. To a person, all found the experience to be enjoyable and worthwhile.
“Thank you for the opportunity. I had some youth involved in the workshop, they all thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” said Erik Biggs who brought in a group of youths from Boys Town.“I felt that the workshop was fun and engaging as well as educational. John made the experience one I look forward to getting more youth involved with in the future.”
“It was a brief chance to express a lot of the underlying anxiety I have about the times we are currently living in,” said Reagan, a workshop participant. “On a more positive note John’s method for the workshop is easy, approachable and fun for any skill level in printmaking.”
Some of the social issues and events that have shown up in prints so far include: the Coronavirus and the changes in lifestyle including lockdowns and social distancing; reaction to the recent deaths of minorities while in police custody; more general racial and economic inequality; commentary on the recent situation between China and Hong Kong; environmental concerns.
Lucy, the youngest printmaker so far at age 11, chose to react to the Coronavirus lockdowns. “When I was asked about my reaction to the pandemic, because we had to stay home; that’s what I thought about and wanted to make a print of,” she said.
The print workshop invites all to join in nurturing their visual voice, making their own statement about a current social or political issue, and learning about the art and craft of the hand-pulled print. Contact the Gallery for dates and times at 402-496-4797 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Printmaking continues through August 14th, when the Gallery will host a closing party and final print making session. Exact dates and times for printmaking are available at the RBR G website or by calling. Completed works will be displayed at the gallery through Saturday August 22nd.
The gallery will limit the number of people at one time and ask that people practice the recommended distancing of six feet. The printmaking workspaces are individualized and separated. Masks are expected and will be available as well as gloves and sanitizing materials. There are no other requirements and no fees, though the Gallery is non-profit, and donations are welcome.
Art galleries are suffering just like other business. Their mission to promote the visual arts did not stop with the pandemic. The methods of getting people into the galleries are the same; openings, exhibits, educational events and workshops will continue at local venues, with some events provided in virtual form, some not.
RBR Gallery goes public with Visual Voice, bringing a tradition of printmaking and social practice into the 21st Century and its own issues and challenges.