Marvin Bileck Visiting Artist and printmaker Nancy Diessner’s artwork starts with a photograph—most recently of taxidermy animals—that depicts the natural world. Diessner combines the photograph with abstract imagery to create work that Visiting Assistant Professor of Art Mary Hart calls “very beautiful and very distressing at the same time.”

The Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project, set up in memory of printmaker Marvin Bileck, brings a guest artist to Bowdoin every semester for a week to produce work with students. Diessner was chosen particularly for the way her work connects to that of Bileck.

“Bileck was primarily an intaglio printmaker [of] a very specific type of printing and Nancy is also an intaglio printmaker,” said Hart. “Her way of doing it is very contemporary and uses all these materials that weren’t available when Marvin Bileck was doing his work. I like that idea of progression in this very traditional form of printmaking.” 

Diessner will spend time in Printmaking I and II classes next week. She plans to teach students her technical printing process, which uses photopolymer plates based on her photography and aluminum plates etched with copper sulfate to create an abstract painting-inspired effect.

“[The students] will be experimenting with printing color over color, maybe printing the plates side by side, so they’ll be doing a lot of experimentation,” said Diessner. “It’s a low-toxic way of etching aluminium. And that’s a very painterly process. I think it’ll be fun for them.”

In addition to engaging students in a different printing process, Diessner hopes to promote non-toxic printmaking practices. Printmaking processes and materials are often toxic due to poor ventilation, excessive use of solvents and various other contaminants. 

Diessner was invited to Bowdoin by Visiting Professor of Art Mary Hart, who teaches printmaking. The two met at a summer workshop at Zea Mays Printmaking, a studio and workshop that is dedicated to non-toxic printmaking methods. 

Nontoxicity is a focus at Bowdoin, too.

“[Associate Professor of Art] Carrie Scanga’s been working on making the studio better and better in terms of efficiency and nontoxicity,” said Hart.

“When I went to college—and I’m not alone in this—there was no ventilation,” Diessner said. “You would just use your hands, no gloves. You cleaned your plates with kerosene. Lots and lots of solvents. There were a lot of serious health problems with printmakers in this generation.”

Diessner’s artwork is a reflection of her experiences across mediums through painting, photography and printmaking. Her interest in the arts began with painting, which she studied at Bennington College. She did graduate work in painting and sculpture at Hunter College.

“My prints are very informed by my painting. When I was a painter, I would make my paintings by [using] lots and lots of transparent, translucent layers of color,” said Diessner. “And that was very much how many of my prints, in the last year and a half, have kind of evolved to [have] many plates, [and] different colors in every layer.” 

“Whether photo-based or not, I hope they’re enthusiastic about the possibilities, because there are so many,” she added. “I’m really just opening the window for tem, and they can see all around and go in many directions. I hope they connect with it.” 

Diessner will deliver a lecture on Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. in the Beam classroom in the Visual Arts Center.