Adventures of Jurying the Honolulu Printmakers 87th Exhibition, Part I

Our poster for the Honolulu Printmakers 87th Annual Exhibition

It was July 2015, when a young Hawaiian printmaker named Travis Sasaki, wrote us asking if we would be interested in jurying the Honolulu Printmakers 87th Annual Exhibition in February 2015. Our first reaction: this must be a mistake as it’s too good to be true, a chance to escape a such a desolate month in the Midwest, or, even worse, this is a very cruel joke. It turned out to be bonafide request, and over the course of the next six months, the Honolulu Printmakers’ director, Duncan Dempster, worked hard to make this unbelievable opportunity a reality.

Fast forward to February and here we are in Honolulu tasked with a unique chance to not only delve into the city’s rich print history, but to also partake in its future through choosing work for its long running annual exhibition. While the process of judging has already begun, we thought it might be good to start this journey with an introduction to the group via their director (and long time member) Duncan Dempster.

Sonnenzimmer (SZ): Can you give us a brief overview on the history of the Honolulu Printmakers and how you came to be involved (and perhaps a brief bio of yourself)?

Duncan Dempster (DD): Honolulu Printmakers was founded in 1928 by several local artists with the simple goal of promoting the art of printmaking. It has existed in different forms over the decades, mainly as an organizing body for an annual juried exhibition. There have been various short-lived studios over the years, including one in a gas station in the eighties, but we’ve occupied the community-access studio we’re in now, at the Honolulu Museum of Art, since 1989. Our facility currently supports intaglio, relief, lithography, and screen-printing, and we’re hoping to add digital imaging capabilities in the near future. We have about 200 members from around the state of Hawaii.

I became involved in the organization after I returned home from college in 1995, looking for someplace to continue working in printmaking. I worked in the Honolulu Printmakers studio for a year, producing work for my graduate school application. Since receiving my MFA from the University of Hawaii at Manoa, I’ve served in different capacities on the HP board of directors, and was hired as Executive Director in 2013.

SZ: You have taken over the leadership of the group, what is your vision leading this community into the next five years? Where do you see challenges and opportunities?

DD: We have deep roots and it’s important to honor them and make sure we continue our various traditions – like the exhibition you’ll be jurying! My primary goal though is to grow the capacity of our organization to ensure its continued existence through its 100-year anniversary and beyond. Part of that task involves nurturing a sustainable creative community in which print artists can work and survive in their field. That’s got to involve a whole network of conditions— studio infrastructure, educational and mentoring opportunities, exhibition space, markets and collectors. Our central challenge is geographic, which becomes an economic issue. That’s the bottom line in Hawaii; we have a very high cost of living and you can’t just try your luck in the big city the next state over. You’ve got to make it happen here, or give up, or relocate—which is a huge move, and a loss! Anytime Honolulu Printmakers can provide an opportunity for a young artist to make even a small part of a living in printmaking, it’s a victory.

We’ve got the usual economic limits faced by the nonprofit arts sector, and we’re also in a demographic transition that is a little tricky to negotiate. But I see a great deal of potential in spite of these challenges. In a lot of ways we are becoming less dependent on our geography, and in general I feel like we are living in a more sophisticated and diverse cultural condition, with more potential, than just 20 years ago, when I was a student. It feels like print has never been more relevant. I find that you don’t really need to “sell” print; people see it or experience it, and it’s magical or powerful on any number of levels to them, and they want a part of it.

SZ: Print by nature is always in flux. It seems right now, that it’s a very open time for the medium. Our studio is a byproduct of this tendency. What are you excited about in print at the moment?

DD: I’m excited about people in the printmaking world finally coming to terms with new technologies and getting over the question “is it printmaking?” Oh wait, have they come to terms with that yet? Well, we’ll see…I’m bored by that discussion anyway and just want people to propose some ways forward, and make some good work. I guess right now I’m most interested in collective, collaborative identities and projects.

SZ: Being an active artist yourself, how to you balance your practice with the duties of a director?

DD: My own work has become somewhat secondary to my work with Honolulu Printmakers, and the other things I do — I also teach printmaking part-time, manage various community arts projects, and I’m a parent, too, so I feel pretty busy. I guess the trick is to make your life your work if you can; or more accurately, to find the opportunities for creative agency in all that you do. So I try to approach running a nonprofit arts organization as an elaborate collaborative art project. I think it’s important to keep active on whatever level your life allows at the moment.

SZ: We have something in common for this 87th Print Biennial. It’s our first time judging under your first time tenure as a director. What do you hope to see at this competition?

DD: Actually I’m coming to the end of my second year as director, so this is my second Annual Exhibition; but this is definitely still new to me! Breadth and depth of technical approaches, and a healthy, engaged community. I hope to see the community engaging in a discussion of what directions printmaking can be pushed towards—new technologies, social engagement, collaborative structures.

Stay tuned for Part 2! In the mean time you can read an interview with us over at the Honolulu Museum of Art’s blog.

 

Our poster for the Honolulu Printmakers 87th Annual Exhibition

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