Over the past few weeks, Bowdoin's Printmaking II students have worked to bring art back into the classroom.
Led by Visiting Professor of Art Anna Hepler and local artist Andrea Sulzer, the advanced printmaking class took over a classroom in the old Brunswick High School for its latest project.
With a little inspiration and a lot of muscle, the class created a large-scale woodcut in the floor of a classroom and transferred them to multiple large prints. Students worked together to plan, carve, ink, print, and coordinate all aspects of their exhibit, "Carving the Floor," which opens tonight at SPACE Gallery in Portland.
"Having access to such a large space and having such free reign to do whatever we wanted to do was incredible," Becca Spiro '09 said.
"It was also a great learning experience to work with such a large group of artists. Since artists can be very opinionated, having 17 people agree was not always easy, but we somehow succeeded in the end," she added.
Scheduled for demolition this May, the building that formerly housed Brunswick's high school served as a perfect venue for the class. With only one room to work in, the problem of reconciling conflicting ideas and interests within the class arose.
"We spent several classes before we entered the school discussing possible approaches, but we couldn't decide on anything," Laurel Clark '10 said. "As a result, the floor was a bit chaotic at first, with everyone pursuing different design ideas that didn't really mesh. We had to step back as a group, re-evaluate, pick what we liked, and make it work."
Eventually the class discovered that group collaboration was necessary for a successful print.
"The basic design ended up being a kind of pipe grid, overlaid with two giant 'blobs' filled with smaller organic shapes," Spiro said.
Traditionally, printmaking relies on an initial woodcut, engraving, or linocut which is then rolled with ink and printed on paper. The old high school, however, required a new scale and new approaches to printing.
Using an unfamiliar surface— a classroom floor—new tools were needed to create an effective woodcut that could be printed. The class resorted to power tools and chisels to breach the hard floor of the classroom.
"We used small woodcarving tools, routers and drummels, and Anna Hepler and Andrea Sulzer even tried using a chain saw," Spiro said.
With Sulzer's help, Hepler also completed her own woodcut in the room next door to the one in which her students worked. She used the same inking and printing techniques, and incorporated abstract lines and negative space—styles that she has incorporated in previous works. Hepler and Sulzer's work will show alongside the class's woodcuts at the SPACE Gallery.
Most artists, once they finish their work, feel some personal attachment to their project. This is not always so of printers. Since the school is being demolished in the spring, it is inevitable that the large woodcut created will be lost to the construction crews.
This fails to bother the artists.
"It's often the nature of printmaking that your actual carvings get discarded or reused," Clark said. "Once you have your print, you either attack your plate again and turn it into something different, or you move on."
The resulting prints, which were created by laying Kozo paper on top of the ink laden woodblock, have earned a prominent spot at the SPACE Gallery in Portland this weekend.
In addition to the collaborative prints, each member of the class will complete five individual prints, which they will combine into a final project at the end of the semester.
"Carving the Floor" will be on display from April 3 to May 23 at the SPACE Gallery. Tonight, there will be an exhibit opening, including documentary photographs and a video diary of the project from 5-8 p.m.
The artists will also discuss their work at SPACE on Wednesday, April 8, at 7 p.m.
-Margot D. Miller contributed to this report.