According to artist Kathy Aoki, "printmaking is a democratic art form. You can show two identical originals at different exhibitions at the same time. Try doing that with a painting!"
Aoki is one of the numerous artists represented in the "Local Editions: A Celebration of Bay Area Printmaking" exhibition currently on view at the Palo Alto Art Center, part of its summer-long program celebrating the eclectic art of printmaking (following last summer's focus on collage).
Aoki's print series "Dance Styles of the 1800's," printed by Gruenwald Press, cheekily imagines modern dance styles such as twerking being performed in private and social settings in the 19th century, the juxtaposition of old-fashioned and new proving humorous and thought-provoking.
"I prefer printmaking methods where there is evidence of the inked plate making contact and pressing into the paper texture (as in intaglio printing), or methods where the artist's hand is visible, such as linoleum cut or lithography," Aoki told the Weekly in an email.
Lithography, for example, traditionally involves drawing an image with fat or wax onto a stone or metal plate. It's an artform that requires some technical trial and error.
"With all printmaking, I enjoy the opportunity to make more than one, to experiment along the way. There are frequent mini-failures in printmaking that must be overcome. I think this resilience to technical adversity has made me a better artist in general," she said.
Other local printing presses featured in "Local Editions" include Arion Press, Crown Point Press, Electric Works, Gallery 16, KALA, Magnolia Editions, Paulson Fontaine Press, Trillium Graphics, Mullowney Printing and Palo Alto's own Smith Andersen Editions.
"For this show we really wanted to make our community aware of how many incredible printmaking presses and master printers there are in the Bay Area and show work that has been done at each one," curator Selene Foster said. "(Curatorial assistant) Andrea Antonaccio and I collected work we feel embodies the spirit of what they do."
For Paul Mullowney of San Francisco's Mullowney Printing, it's something of a family tradition.
"Years ago, my father was a newspaper publisher. My grandfather was a commercial printer in the early 1900s; my shop is named after his company," he said. "I guess graphic arts is kind of in my blood."
His business does all kinds of printing -- photogravure, lithography, screen, letterpress and more -- "almost anything but digital reproductions," he said. He's currently especially fond of photogravure, a process that involves transferring a photographic image to a printing plate.
"Network Paradox Scroll," a large photogravure etching by Greg Niemeyer and Roger Antonsen, was created with Mullowney Printing and is included in "Local Editions."
When asked about the future of his chosen medium and keeping a traditional business going in the high-cost-of-living Bay Area, Mullowney said, "print publishing is very expensive. The economics are always a challenge. It's always a struggle." Mullowney Printing offers workshops and education in addition to its diverse array of printing capabilities, which helps the business thrive, along with continued interest from the community. "There are a lot of young people who are really into the analogue printing," he said.
Big-name artists such as the late children's author/illustrator Maurice Sendak and cartoonist Robert Crumb are represented in the art center's exhibition thanks to their lithographic work with Trillium Graphics. Stanford University art professor Enrique Chagoya's "Pyramid Scheme," digital pigment prints on cans published by Electric Works, are Warhol-esque Campbell's Soup lookalikes under the name "Cannibulls Soup," with flavors including "Wall Street Gumbo" and "Freddie Mac'n'Cheese."
Marcel Dzama's whimsical "The Cabin of Count Dracula," also published by Electric Works, includes not only 20 hand-drawn lithographs but also a little model cabin (home to the vampire family) and a colored vinyl record, "Dracula EP," by Dzama's band Albatross Note, which exhibition visitors are invited to play aloud.
Other components of the "Summer of Printmaking" include the free Summer Family Day on Aug. 25, 2-4:30 p.m., with hands-on art-making and performances; classes for adults in monotyping, etching and collagraph; and the temporary transformation of the Glass Gallery into a primitive printing press, where five local arts will be printing throughout the summer. Their work will be featured in a celebration on Aug. 22.
"Local Editions" also borrows several prints from Palo Alto's public art collection, donated by the late Paula and Phillip Kirkeby of Smith Andersen Editions, including David Gilhooly's etching "First Morning Cup of Paula's Coffee," from 1983. Smith Anderson Editions' former printing press, which the art center now runs from Cubberley Community Center, has been renamed PKP Press in honor of Paula Kirkeby, a former Palo Alto public art commissioner. Works by a selection of artists printing at PKP Press, including Rozanne Hermelyn, Gloria Huet, Anne McGrath Hochberg and Susanne Smith, are on view in the Studio Gallery of the art center through Aug. 25.
"Paula herself was an inspiration to so many, both artists and printers," Foster said.
What: "Local Editions: A Celebration of Bay Area Printmaking."
Where: Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Road, Palo Alto.
When: Through Aug. 25. Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Thursday open until 9 p.m.); Sunday 1-5 p.m.
Info: Palo Alto Art Center.