The administration of the University of Arkansas isn’t interested in giving the public access to its excellent exhibitions, since it sacrificed its very limited visitor parking to expansion of its college of engineering. There’s a tempting parking area space next to the Fine Arts Building, a lot where construction equipment was once parked, but it’s roped off. Even the handicapped spaces are a distance from the Fine Arts Center, which includes the Stella Boyle Smith stage.
But persevere, because there are three fine shows up now until Oct. 2: “Advancing Tradition: 20 Years of Printmaking at Flatbed Press”; “Thoughts from China,” ceramic figures by James Tisdale; and “ROUX,” narrative printmaking by four African-American women.
The work from Flatbed Press in Austin, Texas, includes etchings and other prints of huge dimension (thanks to Flatbed’s oversized press; there’s work in this show that’s 7 feet long) and boundary-pushing technique. Printmaking has come a long way from the days of simple etching into grounds of various hardness or drawing prints from lithography stones.
For example: In her “Women’s Studies” print, from her “Bible Studies Suite,” artist Julie Speed has combined photo polymer gravures of Dore illustrations (from her own damaged Bible) and chine-colle prints of her own drawing (in a style imitative of woodcut), hand-coloring the result. The inky flat black and sharp lines of the Dore illustrations (scenes of stoning and King Solomon with the baby in this particular print) contrast with the faint curving lines tracing the landscape of the faces and necks of two women. This is but one of dozens of works to spend time with in this exhibition. Another is late artist Luis Jimenez’ “Abu Ghraib,” a powerful lithograph of three rope-bound and naked men, inspired by Goya’s “Disasters of War” etchings. Another war piece, Robert Levers’ “Victory: The Celebration,” is a 37-by-45-inch soft-ground etching that features skeletons and a marionette soldier in epaulets and tall hat dancing on an empty plain with faint details of burning oil fields in the background. A small abstract by Greg Murr, “St. Lawrence Walk,” is a wonderful embossed etching of torn-edge shapes in black, gray and silver.
Only a few of the works seem to be more about process than end, but experimentation has its value as well.
Katherine Brimberry, the co-founder of Flatbed Press, will give a lecture at 1:40 p.m. Sept. 29 in the Stella Boyle Smith Concert Hall. Stow your car somewhere near campus, put on your hiking shoes and try to make it.
Tisdale’s exhibition of ceramic child-sized figures in Gallery II, across the hall from the main gallery, has its own rewards. Tisdale, known for colorful glazes, made this particular work in China, where he adapted to the limited materials at hand. Only the faces on Tisdale’s hat-wearing elfin creatures are glazed in high gloss, their cheeks streaked with reds and blues and eyes darkly outlined. They are a wary bunch, these squat figures; one is tempted to snatch them up.
“Fore-mothers” are the subject of Gallery III’s “Roux” by women printmakers, including Little Rock’s Delita Martin. Martin’s largish lithographs place portraits of women (and women’s things, like a skillet) atop stenciled patterns. Ann “Sole Sister” Johnson has printed family portraits on magnolia leaves and feathers and Lovie Olivia has used ink transfers on poured plaster. Rabea Ballin has intricate solarplate etchings of twisted and braided hair — what she calls “headscapes.” It’s work that’s as inventive as the Flatbed prints, but never self-conscious.