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Friday, March 11, 2011

Big Week for Print Nerds in St. Louis

Posted By on Fri, Mar 11, 2011 at 12:40 PM

Evil prints of original artwork -- the perfect thing to go under your beer. - MELISSA MEINZER
  • Melissa Meinzer
  • Evil prints of original artwork -- the perfect thing to go under your beer.

If you're into printmaking, your schedule next week is going to be packed. On Wednesday, the Southern Graphics International Conference comes to town, which is sponsored by Washington University and includes a big presence on Cherokee Street. And Tom Huck's Evil Prints is throwing separate parties and events in cool spots around the city.

So, is it a printmaking smackdown? After all, Huck is a former (and not-entirely-gruntled) Wash. U. instructor and maverick big-name local printmaker -- and here he's throwing his own printmaking party at precisely the time his former employer is hosting a major conference.

But folks involved in planning both events say there's little drama here. Sure, there's maybe a bit of bad feeling on Huck's part -- he won't talk about the circumstances of his separation from Wash. U., after all, and he takes some issue with its academic approach to printing.

Huck, though, professes to be genuinely enthused about the satellite events Wash. U. is throwing on Cherokee Street. And while the flier for Huck's events, dubbed "Hell Week," seems to be thumbing its nose at the official conference events, Huck says that he's not trashing the conference.

"We purposely scheduled our events not to conflict," Huck says. "We're the late-night stuff."

He's not without some jabs at the establishment events, though.

"It's just about making cool prints and being yourself and not being the slave of any sort of academic mentality. That's what my shop is about," Huck says. "My shop lives to print my work and spread printmaking to the masses, to everybody, not just people that are paying to come to a printmaking conference."

As for Wash. U., Lisa Bulawsky, the associate professor there who's been instrumental in planning the conference, will only say this about Huck: "We're excited about what he's doing at Evil Prints."

The conference long predates Huck's upstart alternative. Since 1973, in fact, printmaking enthusiasts have been gathering every year to connect and showcase their work. This year, the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts hosts the four-day collection, Equilibrium, which includes lectures, awards and workshops.

Hung Liu will receive lifetime achievement award for her work with "mythic poses," human statures that seem to transcend time and place. The keynote speaker, Ellen Dissanayake, is an ethnologist who'll speak on the human need to leave one's mark. And Brooklyn-based Swoon talks about her community-focused life-size cut paper portraits, in addition to creating one on the east wall of the Bruno David Gallery.

Bringing the conference to St. Louis took two years and a lot of work, Bulawsky says, and bringing a publicly accessible component to Cherokee Street seemed like a natural extension of the conference. The south-city street is home to Firecracker Press, All Along Press, Paper Boat Studios, and heaps of galleries and art spaces.

"It was one of the first places I wanted to bring into the conference -- the artists who have gone down there and set up shop," Bulawsky says. "It's a burgeoning arts community."

"They are focusing on Cherokee Street in part because the street has so many print shops and artists that have an evident practice there," says Sarah Paulsen, an artist who is coordinating the south-city satellite events.

The street will be a major destination Friday night. Print shops and galleries will have exhibits and parties going on into the wee hours. Restaurants are staying open late, and the street will be lit by lanterns that residents have made conveying what inspires them about St. Louis and Cherokee Street.

Check out a mobile print shop on the back of a bike, a wedding between a couple and the art of printmaking, and custom-printed tortillas for some art you can eat.

"I'm always yearning for these moments where I can walk blocks in cities where it feels safe and vibrant, where it has that kind of small-town feel and endless amounts of things you can go in and see and experience -- the community of a city," Paulsen says. "I love that!"

The events on Cherokee are free and open to the public, whereas most of the stuff on the Wash. U. campus requires paid admission to the conference. And if the doings on Cherokee haven't slaked your thirst for ink, Tom Huck's events will fill the bill.

Huck's shop, which has been "disgusting the masses since 1995," promises to provide "bad-ass alternative printertainment during SGC 2011 St. Louis."

What it's doing includes a week-long residency by Artemio Rodriguez starting Monday, March 14, printmaking grudge matches, gallery shows, an opening of a Huck exhibit at Saint Louis University Museum of Art and the Printbanger's Ball, a balls-out printmaking party scene next Saturday night at the Atomic Cowboy.

Plus, all week, pick up custom-printed PBR coasters at bars around the city with a dozen artists' take on the Evil Prints logo. Collect 'em all, and win a prize at the Printbanger's Ball.

So forget about any drama between rival printmaking factions. This is symbiosis at its best, and Bulawsky believes the fact that there's an international conference, a locally-focused offshoot and an entirely separate series of print-related events taking place in a single week here shows that the printmaking scene in St. Louis is thriving.

"That's one of the most gratifying parts of this," she says.

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