Most jobs come with occupational hazards. In the world of printmaking, artists are exposed to dangerous chemicals that can seriously affect their heath; and Liz Chalfin is doing something about it. In a September 24 lecture, Chalfin discussed her continued pursuit of safe alternatives to the dangerous chemical processes common in modern printmaking.
Chalfin’s mission of finding safer methods of printmaking impacts her art in subtle ways; she ascribes much of her originality to her search for novel techniques and substances, and says all her work is guided by this goal.
Director of Zea Mays Printmaking, a studio in Florence, Mass., Chalfin focuses on eliminating toxic solvents and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from her artistic process. These chemicals may lead to serious health problems such as brain damage and cancer, and printmakers are often unavoidably exposed to them.
“These are all things that, in a traditional print studio, are just out and people are washing their hands in it. The fumes are everywhere,” Chalfin said. “There’s a whole generation of printmakers that trained me that have suffered.”
Chalfin’s prints are unique in their combination of different mediums; her work includes elements of etching, drawing, painting and photography. The print “evolution tale I” from her “Creation” series, for example, merges monotype, photo intaglio, graphite, and drawing ink into a single bewildering haze of animal sillouettes and microscopic images of human body tissue.
Chalfin presents her work through books she publishes in limited quantities. She organizes prints into series under the heading of a guiding theme such as what a single day can hold, or the relationship between plants and the human body. The loose-leaf, circular structure of her books allows readers to shuffle the pages and create their own narratives.
Every facet of her books holds particular personal significance, said Chalfin, adding that her inspiration comes from social interactions, human relationships, and culture.
She described culture as a process of both creation and destruction.
“Culture to me is both art making and the demolition derby. It’s the whole range of the human connection.”
Chalfin’s passion for printmaking began at California State University, where she earned a masters degree in printmaking.
“It was love at first sight. When I walked into that studio as a freshman undergrad—well I was a junior at that point—I knew this is what I want to do for the rest of my life,” she said. “I feel like I’m so lucky because not many people find a passion that kind of pulls them through life. I did, and I know that’s rare.”
Visiting the College on invitation from the Marvin Bileck Printmaking Project, Chalfin spent time working with students in Printmaking I and II.
As a teacher, she said she tries to create a traditional master and apprentice dynamic. She shows students her process and they then imitate her, producing copies of her work. The students also practice technical skills like mixing colors, handling paper and using equipment.
Chalfin’s advises aspiring artists to seek out support and feedback.
“Find a community of artists wherever you are in your life. Find a community that you can share your work with, and make it a practice to continue working no matter what else you’re doing in your life,” she said.
Chalfin says she is unsure about specific future projects.
“I feel like I’m on a path, and I’ll just follow it, said Chalfin. “I have hundreds of images that I want to work from. So, I feel like at any point I could pull one out. What I’m going to do with it, I don’t know, but there’s always the next thing.”