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A Shark’s perspective

Wren Wertin

Walk in the door of the Plaza Gallery in Vail and that might be the first thing you see. The gallery, an artists’ co-operative, is playing host to a selection of original art prints from Shark’s Ink. in Lyons. The exhibition will be on the walls through March 6, and kicks off in earnest with a reception today from 5 to 8 p.m.

John Buck is responsible for two woodcarvings, one of which is “Argosy.” Front and center is a glass jar filled with water; a potato, suspended by toothpicks, is rooting.

“Using a pen, a nail or his fingernail,” explains the artist’s bio, “Buck incises the wood planks that form the base and background of his prints with images and symbols drawn from the daily news, from his own sculpture and from nature.”

A sprinkling of eyes dot the potato, and behind it is a background in muted colors depicting a blindfolded Mickey Mouse holding a bag of money, the Statue of Liberty in a shopping cart, a church in flames, and numerous other images. It’s the sort of work you can peer into again and again, finding new references each time. It’s grand in detail, in craft and in size.

“An original print means that the artist has created all the plates that the

print is made from,” said Susan Mackin Dolan, a printmaker. “The print only exists in and of itself. It is not a reproduction of a painting or drawing or other work on paper. It only exists as a print.”

Some galleries sell reproductions of a painting or drawing, but call them prints, which is a misnomer. As Mackin Dolan described, true art prints – such as the ones in the show – are made from many plates or blocks that are drawn or cut by the artist. Layers of ink are printed one over the other to get the finished print.

Shark’s Ink. is run by Bud Shark, a master printer. He used to make his own prints, but now he finds artists and helps them print theirs. Oddly enough, most of the artists he works with are not first and foremost printmakers. They are sculptors, painters, ceramicists, performers. But something in their work resonates within Shark, and thus begins a collaboration.

“Sometimes it’s the challenge,” he said. “I like the work and I think it would be a challenge to try and do it in print. Sometimes I just like the work and want to be involved in it.”

Because of the investment he makes in the work, in time and in dollars, he has to be interested in it. Shark’s Ink. began as a contract shop, essentially for hire. As he built a reputation, he was able to choose the artists he wanted to work with. Today, many of his artists are collected by museums.

“The use of colors is somewhat unique to the work we do,” said Shark. “And there is a vein in the work that has a social-political comment to it. And that’s sort of unconscious on my part.”

That social-political comment is easily seen in the prints of Enrique Chagoya. He’s both painter and printmaker. He integrates pre-Columbian mythology, Western religious iconography and American pop culture into his complex, non-linear narratives. When the European priests and soldiers conquered the pre-Columbian Americas, they set fire to all the libraries they found. Historians estimate all but 16 books were destroyed.

“My codex books are based on the idea that history is told by those who win wars,” wrote Chagoya. “Previous historic accounts are erased, destroyed or buried in oblivion. A new official story is invented in order to justify the new reality of events.”

The timeliness of his perspective is almost spooky. In his lithograph, “La Portentosa Vida de la Muerte,” (“The Marvelous Life of Death”) the image is bordered by words, running the entire square around:

“War breeds misery.

Misery breeds discontentment.

Discontentment breeds revolution.

Revolution breeds democracy.

Democracy breeds peace.

Peace breeds progress.

Progress breeds wealth.

Wealth breeds greed.

Greed breeds power.

Power breeds corruption.

Corruption breeds inequality.

Inequality breeds war.”

And thus the cycle continues, again.

Not all the subjects are so weighty, though. Hung Liu’s lithographs with collage Chinese papercuts are so delicate in detail they seem almost a mirage of color, but for the rich substance of them. Her series, “Unofficial Portraits,” is based on anonymous historical photographs. She embellishes them with drawings and the papercuts.

“Between dissolving and preserving is the rich middle-ground where the meaning of an image is found,” she wrote. “My prints are metaphors for memory and history.”

Perhaps the most famous of the artists is Red Grooms, a painter, sculptor, printmaker, filmmaker and “showman par excellence.” His 3-D lithographs have a grand sense of humor and wit. Within his major installations, he’s “stretched the boundaries of sculpture and painting and excited the imaginations of thousands of viewers.” A retrospective of his prints will open at the National Academy Museum in New York this July and travel throughout the United States through 2005.

Other artists include Yvonne Jacquette, Hollis Sigler, Rafael Ferrer, Betty Woodman, Italo Scanga, Robert Kushner, Janis Provisor, Roy Deforest and Tom Burckhardt.

Plaza Gallery is located in Vail, behind the Alpenrose restaurant. It opens daily at 11 a.m.

“A gallery exhibition (of Shark’s Ink. prints) doesn’t happen often in Colorado,” explained Shark.

And it certainly hasn’t happened before in Vail.

“It’s educational and exciting,” enthused Mackin Dolan, who usually seems inordinately calm. “These are famous artists who’ve never before been seen in Vail. It’s a very, very special little show.”

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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