Brandywine show & Panel Discussion at the PMA

The following is a guest post by the multi-talented Alison Dell.

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Danny Alvarez, Untitled, 2006

“I think art thrives in place, and printmaking thrives in Philadelphia because it has great institutional support and individuals.  We function on a different kind of level, its not marketplace driven – it’s education and community, we use (printmaking) as a tool to try and bring people together to do something in the community.”

Thus spoke Allan Edmunds, founder of Philadelphia’s Brandywine Workshop, at Sunday’s PMA-mediated discussion focusing on printmaking and community organized in conjunction with their exhibition, Full Sprectrum: Prints from the Brandywine Workshop, in the Pre-Sandy gloaming of Philadelphia on Sunday.  Of course that was all before, before the storm, before the soaking of Chelsea and the up-ending of NY’s Printweek – including the 15th EAB fair, which is an economic lifeline to many independent shops around the country.

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John Biggers, Family Ark, 1992

Yes, printmaking is a commercial venture.  It’s also an egalitarian, work driven community, with a strong bent for social change.   American community printshops began with the WPA, inspired by the Mexican muralists, and continues in today’s community shops such as NYC’s Bob Blackburn, Philly’s Brandywine, and L.A’s Self Help Graphics. That seed of activism is robustly celebrated in Full Spectrum— an exhibit of prints from the Brandywine Press currently up at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  The work features a selection from a gift of 100 prints, donated to the museum in memory or former director Anne d’Harnoncourt.

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Willie Birch, Promise Land, 1985

Philadelphia artist Allan Edmunds, inspired by Bob Blackburn’s eponymous NYC shop – started Brandywine in 1972.   Since then, Brandywine has a maintained a dual commitment to community education, and bringing in visiting artists of diverse backgrounds, all working in the shop under master printer Robert W. Franklin.   Full spectrum is by turns exuberant, angry, political, innovative and many hued – and most of the prints are offset lithos with a sprinkling of silkscreen and woodblocks.

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Joyce de Guatamala, Beyond the Year 2000, 1993

Offset lithography combines thin layers of transparent color and with easy registration to make super-layered emergent color combinations. Robert W. Franklin, master-printed most of the works in the show, and the best prints combine the artists’ diverse sensibilities with Franklin’s technical mastery.   Some pretty amazing effects are inspired by textile, such as Joseph Fedderson’s 1989 Self Portrait.  In The Kiss (1995), Akill Ross Anderson’s mastery of stained glass synergizes with Franklin’s painterly approach, to make create something super dense, bonkers-yet-geometric and color-mad-yet-subdued.  There is so much going on in these works that photos don’t do them justice.

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Sam Gilliam, Harlem Nights, 1993

Intricacy is not always complicated and messy; Sculptor Joyce de Guatemala’s Beyond The Year 2000 (1993), combines offset litho with silkscreen and paper construction.  A luminous blue fades from left to right, and the paper constructions totally mess with your perception of depth in the print.  The crowns on the silver tress are in relief on the right, part of the paper on the left.   It’s simultaneously ethereal and solid.  Samella Lewis’ Boy on Bench (2007) has a graphic simplicity that’s belied by the intricate offset woodgrain background and the skill and care in the rendering of the boy’s hands and face.  James Brantley’s Nightflight (1994) is incredibly painterly. In a recent video for Brandywine, Brantley describes his goal for Nightflight as “depth of color,”  Virtuosity of lithography – that color is there. Sam Gilliam’s Harlem Nights (1993) is a lyrical  abstraction with splashes of white silkscreen against the offset background. Willie Birch’s Promise Land (1985), though offset litho, uses ink so opaque it totally looks like silkscreen to render a life in a city street.

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Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds,Telling many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi, 1989

Brandywine’s mission has fostered artists of diverse backgrounds and many works in the show unabashedly confront issues of race, class, gender, identity and injustice.  Camille Billops KKK boutique (1994) and Berkeley Hendricks Sacrifice of the Watermelon Virgin (1987) directly confront African-American racial stereotypes.  Hock E Aye Vi Edgar Heap of Birds,protests the commoditization of his Native American identity in Telling many Magpies, Telling Black Wolf, Telling Hachivi(1989).  Paul F. Keene’s Generations (1996), John Biggers’ Family Ark (1992), and Danny Alvarez’s Untitled (2006) are gorgeous reflections of heritage and iconography.  This is the kind of work that can thrive in a non-commercial print publishing model.  It’s a powerful argument for the continuation of the print as a democratic medium, and the model of the community printshop as a still-relevant means of fostering community and social change.  Go see it.

You can see all 100 Brandywine prints donated to the PMA here. It’s definitely worth a look.

All images courtesy of the PMA.

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Categories: Current Events, Exhibitions

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