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Printmakers consider sustainability
By GREG COOK  |  November 25, 2008

SUSTAINABLE.jpg
STATEMENT OF PURPOSE: Stern's Sustainable.

Sustainable living has, of course, long been a concern, but worries about global warming have pushed it to the forefront. And increasingly made it the subject of art.

For "Sustainable: Visions for a Living Planet," at AS220's Main Gallery (115 Empire St, Providence, through November 30), show organizer Meredith Stern, program director at AS220 and a member of the Just Seeds Visual Resistance Artists' Cooperative, wanted to see what sparks flashed when she rubbed the political bent of the Just Seeds printmakers against the Providence printmaking explosion experience (or whatever you like to call it). It's a nice pairing. Providence has created an international reputation as a center for awesome psychedelic rock concert posters over the past 15 years. But the fight over local real estate development (see in particular the razing of Fort Thunder in 2002) helped politicize the artwork.

Stern put out an open call this summer for an unjuried show. As you might expect, the prints here by some three dozen artists — mostly Rhode Islanders, but also a handful of Just Seeds folks — are a hit or miss community art hootenanny.

Some of the best stuff is Stern's own work, including the show's poster, a linocut-woodcut combo showing a clunky cute winged cat and bird holding up a feathery flowery banner inviting artists to participate. Stern also contributes Begin Again, a linocut showing a woman braiding strands into a flowing banner under the slogan "Weave radical transformation." Grow Together is a black-and-white print of two women digging in a field. I love the rugged, buzzing, scratchy style of her relief prints.

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A SIMPLE MESSAGE: A detail of Fino-Radin’s
untitled work.
Caroline Paquita's color screen print We Will Not Hibernate. We Will Create New Traditions shows a cute critter couple embracing in a woodland cabin or tent. Ben Fino-Radin contributes an untitled piece featuring just blue letters on wood-grain contact paper that say "Nothing is sacred/Everything is holy." The messages throughout the show are mostly simple and earnest — protect family farms, save energy. But Mike Taylor and Mickey Colette's screenprint Collaboration Is Sustainable is a smart-alecky number. Three little manic cartoon figures say (in cartoon bubbles) "Righteous," "Wrongus," and "Where's my pant?" as they prance atop pink bubble letters proclaiming "Eat Some Shit."

Colette also contributes a loose, punky, cartoony screenprint in which red hands reach down from the sky toward a giant blue cat and gold dragon. These creatures are confronted by a blue ogre-man saying, "Hff." It crackles with energy — but who knows what it's about.

There are occasional heralds of doom. Will Schaff's black-and-white screenprint Homesteader reproduces one of his goth scratchboard drawings in which a man with skulls for eyes hoes a farm field below an ominous black cloud.

Some artists just offer catchy pictures. Heidi Born's screenprint Jellies shows floating sci-fi jellyfish. Mary Tremonte's screenprint Gentleman Antbirds Courting depicts two blue birds on a gold background. One seems to offer the worm in its mouth to the other. Born and Tremonte have a sharp pop cartoony style. Victoria Lockard's black-and-white linocut Baptism is a dark surreal scene of a woman and naked children near a well in a garden.

Taylor resorts to just words for his screenprint How To Be Mike Taylor. It's a sort of flowchart of his struggle to make art, make friends, find love, and build community amidst the demands of money, jealousy, and simply fooling around. He scrawls: "The Neighborhood: How long can you fight the stupid shit that everyone else seems to want?"

It's one of the most urgent calls in a show that is more fun than substantial. But it is energizing.

Read Greg Cook's blog at gregcookland.com/journal.

Related: Funhouse, Hootenanny!!, Can we fix our broken suburbs?, More more >
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