Maybe it’s something about the nature of printmaking, which requires artists to spend many solitary, introspective studio hours in painstaking technical work, but the latest print show in town has brought out a strongly empathetic focus from printmakers around the nation. Pacific Lutheran University’s School of Arts and Communication opened its biannual National Print Show last week, and this year’s focus subject – compassion – is given strong attention.
It’s a comfortably-sized show, which is a good thing – big group shows can be overwhelming – and it’s worth both the trek out to campus and the hassle of daytime parking to see. One of four events in the SOAC Compassion series (the others are an upcoming documentary film, the play “Rabbit Hole” in March and a new choral composition about war in May), the print show delves into human themes of empathy, sorrow, hope, connection and desperation with quiet dignity, and some very skillful use of the print medium.
Tiniest of the show is Candy Hill’s “Family Tree,” a hand-made book just one inch high that binds solar prints of smiling faces on hand-made paper in an embossed leather cover. So small, it speaks eloquently of privacy, and the frailty of human relationships in a big world. Right by it is the largest print in the show, Patrick Vincent’s woodcut “Weaver Crane.” On a long rice-paper scroll is the image of a woman weaving with six busy hands and a stooped crane for head and neck. Alert and intense, even her body is textured with the woven lines of the woodcut.
Gaul Culley also offers a woodcut, but so astonishingly subtle it might be a serigraph, the greens and yellows layered and fading in and out of each other through etched hints of leaf and forest.
One of the beauties of a print show is the sheer diversity of printmaking, and “The Human Experience” has most of them. “4 a.m. Flurry” is a lithograph by Emily Stokes that highlights through oil pastels the coughing smokiness of a dark mountain valley filled with trucks and cars, whose childlike shapes contradict their intrinsic adult sadness and grime.
Totally contrasting, “Even Keel” is a bright linocut by Tacoma printmakers Chandler O’Leary and Jessica Spring, as part of their feminist broadside series. A proud portrait of tugboat captain Eliza Thorrold (1860-1935) sits inside a stylishly-lettered ship’s wheel, against a background of diving whales and hand-colored San Francisco landmarks.
Many works explore skillfully the strength of the print medium. Cosette Dudley, in “My Friend Betty: Security Risk” sets three intaglio-printed photographs of a young girl with a fierce stare, stamping one with “Security Risk” and the last, blurrily rubbed out, with “Relocated.” There’s a beautifully detailed etching by Karla Hackenmiller, an abstract of folding, looping dotted lines; a scattered heap of breathtakingly fragile postcards serigraphed onto glass by Michelle Murillo; and the serigraph “Jump” by Katie Dean of a suicide flying, arms wide, off a bridge, the faded texture and pale blue ink a haunting memory.
Coming up in the SOAC Compassion Series is the documentary “Overexposed: The Cost of Compassion,” made by the PLU Media Lab about the cost of caring to those who give it day after day; David Lindsay-Abaire’s play “Rabbit Hole,” which won the 2007 Pulitzer for its story of life-shattering loss and moving on; and the premiere of PLU composer Greg Youtz’ “Drum Taps: Nine Poems on Themes of War,” which takes Civil War poetry by Walt Whitman and sets them to choral music amid five more contemporary poems from current warzones.
“National Print Show: The Human Experience” is open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday through March 7. Free. Ingram Hall gallery, School of Arts and Communication.
“Overexposed: The Cost of Compassion” screens 7 p.m. Feb. 22. Free. Lagerquist Concert Hall, School of Music.
“Rabbit Hole” plays 7:30 p.m. March 9. $8/$5. Eastvold Auditorium.
“Drum Taps” is performed 8 p.m. May 15. $8/$5/$3/free for under-18. Lagerquist Concert Hall, School of Music.
All events held at Pacific Lutheran University, 12180 Park Ave. S., Tacoma. 253-535-7150, www.plu.edu