"Monotypes with Friends" in Ravelin

Curator Jack Shannon Discusses “Monotypes with Friends,” Currently On View At Entrance Gallery

Artist Claire Christerson speaks with Jack Shannon about monotype printing; curating a show in which each of the artists explores a medium they have never used before; and how mistakes can yield discoveries.

“Monotypes With Friends” is a group show that is up currently at Entrance Gallery, located at 48 Ludlow.  Curated and produced by Jack Shannon, the show consists of one-off monotype prints made by fifteen different artists.  All of the monotypes in this show were produced in the back studio of Entrance on a printing press that Jack acquired with the intention of sharing this tool with other artists to pursue and encourage new styles of making work.  Jack invited artists with whom he has worked closely (including me), to see how each artist’s practice could be adapted to the art and practice of making monotype prints.

Claire Christerson: To start: What is a monotype?

Jack Shannon: A monotype is a unique print, where a mark is made on one surface, and transferred to another through pressure. There are infinite ways to produce them, in our case, the artists painted on plexiglass plates, which were run through an etching press onto printmaking paper. What is beautiful about working on glass is that you can work additively and subtractively, and as the glass is totally non-porous, paint can be applied in a gestural way that is unique to that surface; when the painting is then transferred to paper, a surface that totally contradicts the qualities of glass, it lends an uncanny almost photographic quality to the finished print. I think the beauty and energy lies in that mistranslation and its democratized surface.   

CC: Yes, as someone who printed with you for this show, it was a challenge to do this because it felt like in the beginning I was being given too much freedom, because I’m so used to holding a pen, really tight in my hand.

JS: I think that my role as link between the artist and the process meant that I had to know the practice of all of the artists, their mark, and prescribe, almost like a doctor, a certain set of materials and techniques that might resonate with them. Every artist had access to the same materials in the show, yet, it’s an incredibly eclectic show. At the same time there was a beautiful connection between the artists who would see the other work that was produced in the studio, and by proxy learn from each other’s marks. This produced a vocabulary all the artists were able to work from. It was really interesting for me that none of the artists had done this process before and for each person to be working from a new vulnerable place, that exploration is ingrained in all the prints in the show.

I think it’s also connected to an older tradition. I started dreaming about monotypes after seeing “Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty” show at the MoMA, which included his monotypes.  I think a lot of artists saw it and were infatuated by it. It took a little while for me to get the press together…

CC: Do you want to talk about how you got the press?

JS: Well, I guess that idea of working with artists and having this tool––the desire to make prints and share that knowledge with people was in me for a long time.  I’d been looking for a press and I found this community center near Hancock, New York; my brother Louis and I rented a truck and drove four hours up there, and went to the community center, into the basement, met the owner and his son, and we all carried this 400 pound press up a flight of stairs. We loaded it in the truck, drove it back and immediately brought it to Tom Kovachevich’s studio. There I studied the process with Tom.  After a month of experimentation, the gears started turning. Then we moved it to the gallery, and over a 2-month period, printed the rest of the show.

CC: It sounds like that time of experimentation was valuable in learning about the difference between the mediums.

JS: I think what’s difficult about it for painters is that it shares so many of the same qualities as painting, a muscle memory kicks in but it actually has a whole other set of rules. There’s always this beautiful moment where each artist is resigned to the process, instead of fighting to try and conform it to the artist’s painting practice; that’s the breakthrough moment with most people.

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