The 312: A quarter century of Chicago printmaking

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There are certainly easier ways to produce works of art on fine paper. But for some reason, the members of the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative choose to do it the old-fashioned way: by hand.

These artists use stones, wood, glass, ink, chemicals and (some) use mirrors or an uncanny ability to draw in reverse, as if dyslexic, to create a form of art with a one-of-a-kind calling card. Sure, they could take their photos and paintings to a store to get copied in a hurry. But what’s the fun in that?

“I spend three months creating a drawing on an etching plate, covering it with acid, and then I print it and it’s still not right?” says Deborah Maris Lader, director and founder of the collaborative and former Indiana University instructor whose work is in several permanent collections, including at the New York Public Library. “I cover it again (with acid) and I draw some more onto it. It is really labor intensive. A lot of us who are printmakers, we love this process. We love the commitment of the materials and we love working in these mediums.”

Printmaking is an ancient art that today is practiced by a few but collected by many. And as far as Chicago is concerned, for the last 25 years, the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative has been at the forefront of helping the art to flourish. It’s the city’s oldest-running, independent printmaking facility.

“There’s just a small group of people who still do this,” Lader says. “Because of that we’re very much a community. It’s this arts community and incubator all centered around the idea of making prints.”

Talking with Lader demystifies the print process. She admits that nowadays the word “print” is tossed around haphazardly, as if the multiprinted “prints” at say, Target or Home Goods are the same types of art produced by artists at the collaborative.

Here’s a hint, she says. Posters aren’t prints. If it looks like a poster, smells like a poster, well, it’s probably a poster. If it says it’s one of 5,000, it’s probably not done by hand. If it says it’s 25 of 500, and even has a signature in the corner, it’s still probably not done by hand. But if it is No. 12 of say, 15? You’ve probably hit the made-by-hand print jackpot.

She does understand the confusion. In a world where most are used to printing electronically, Lader’s world is one of serigraphs, lithographs and silk screens. It’s the kind of print world where each color is added separately to an image, and where artists use ink, greasy crayons, copper plates or limestone to create images.

Hiroshi Ariyama is one such artist

who is part of that world. His work is 100 percent Chicago — usually taken from the perspective of someone who has walked a thousand times beneath, say, the L tracks at Hubbard and Wells.

“These aren’t postcard pictures,” he explains. “I tend to sort of look at the details and ordinary street corners of Chicago rather than postcard shots. People who have been here for a while know exactly where I’m standing, and that’s just sort of a connection I want people to have.”

Ariyama is a featured artist at the collaborative and at the accompanying exhibit, “Rolled, Stoned and Inked: 25 Years at the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative,” at Expo 72, at 72 E. Randolph. The exhibit runs until February and holds weekly showcases explaining how some of the printmaking processes work.

He’s been with the collaborative since 2003. “It’s a great resource for people who want to make prints but don’t want to have all the equipment and chemicals in their home,” Ariyama says. “I had a space there, using all their darkroom and exposure units. It’s a great place to sort of hang out with other artists doing their own work.”

Adrienne Samuels Gibbs is reporter at The Chicago Sun-Times


Twitter: @adriennewrites

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