Seldom do you hear the tale of an art center outside the vibrant, trendsetting scenes of New York and Los Angeles that not only attracts the highest caliber of fine art but also produces a 90-piece exhibition featuring top, highly credentialed artists from across the nation. This is that tale.
Shy Rabbit Contemporary Arts, the Pagosa Springs gallery and art center founded by Michael and Denise Coffee, is holding its second annual Print National through Oct. 17. Print National 2 is a collection of fine art, limited edition prints (not to be mistaken for computer generated graphics and prints). Building off last years success, Print National 2 attracted hundreds of submissions from artists worldwide and opened Sept. 4.
Walk through the 4,000-square-foot art center and a story begins to slowly, faintly play out on the walls of the converted auto-repair shop. Skeletal creatures manning an ailing industrial machine drive the story through intricately beautiful woodcuts and etchings to farcical American pop culture references complete with a maniacal Donald Duck. The diverse works of 45 artists from 21 states, Canada and Britain represent a range of printmaking mediums, skill sets and disciplines.
Shy Rabbit received 308 entries this year. To whittle the selection down to 90, the Coffees selected Oregon State University professor and previous Print National entrant Yuji Hiratsuka. After teaching art in Osaka, Japan, Hiratsuka moved to the United States in 1985 to eventually receive two graduate degrees. His work has won numerous awards, including the Equal Prize at the International Art Triennial in Poland, and has been showcased the world over.
As Print National juror, Hiratsuka was given free rein over the selection. After setting his own criteria based upon technical execution, presentation and originality, Hiratsuka chose a print if it had a compelling visual message or had intuitive, intriguing elements which drew my attention.
On a Tuesday evening after the shows opening, Michael Coffee commented, I dont know how many print nationals are out there. I think thats why we got such a good turnout.
Denise Coffee added, Its getting more rare that galleries show a lot of prints.
The Coffees refer to a decline in interest and general education of printmaking in recent years. With the digital media explosion and the rapid and relatively inexpensive reproduction of artwork, printmaking has not necessarily become forgotten but rather underappreciated. Whereas Giclée, or inkjet prints, can create innumerous reproductions, traditional printmaking techniques create limited editions where each print is unique in itself.
One of the reasons (printmaking) is disappearing is it takes a master level skill. ... I dont think people want to spend that much time anymore, Michael Coffee said.
This growing obscurity makes a show like Print National all the more unique to its setting. That a relatively new gallery in a rural Colorado town can put together an exhibition of this quality is a testament to the Shy Rabbit mission: To not only show diverse, high-end fine art but also educate the public.
Thats a big key of what this show represents, Michael Coffee said.
I spent a lot of my time at the opening explaining things. I didnt stop talking for three hours, he said.
The artists exhibited not only an immense variety of printmaking techniques but backgrounds as well. From a delicate woodcut by the former chair of the San Francisco State University art department to a satirical screenprint from the Midwestern State University Museum of Art director, the exhibition also showcases work from emerging artists. Print National 2 is as much an education as it is a pleasure trip.
Margaret Hedderman is a freelance writer living in New Mexico. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.