PRESSURE applies unconventional media

Recycled bottles, watercolor portraits, colorful prints and monochromatic woodcuts might not seem like items that belong in a room together. Yet last Friday, a group of like-minded student artists made these objects coexist in Centre Gallery’s latest exhibition, “PRESSURE.”

With their concentration in printmaking, seniors majoring in studio art Mark Martinez, Rory Laven, Javier Torres and Kevin Tsoi-A-Sue put together a proposal for a joint exhibit last spring. Martinez said the group’s goal was to showcase the different avenues of printmaking, which is the process of producing images on paper, wood or fabric through techniques of pressing or multiplication.

“We were trying to focus more on unconventional means of printmaking,” he said. “For myself, I concentrate more on holograph and relief.”

Each of the artists integrated other realms of art into their print work for “PRESSURE.” The exhibition also features painting and sculpture. Although they used differing materials, the artists’ collections have an overall visual cohesion.

“Printmaking is a very small department,” Laven said. “So we always have to work closely together and share the space and bounce ideas off of each other.”

Laven began working on his first “PRESSURE” piece – a collection of 32 symmetrically painted square prints – one year ago. He learned how to hand-make paper, a process that required continuous development as the pieces got bigger.

“I’m probably the most process-based person because I start off with material first,” Laven said. “The bigger prints were harder to make because I needed a bigger vessel to create them in.”

Tsoi-A-Sue also incorporated new elements into his pieces for the exhibit. Like much of his previous work, his watercolor prints in “PRESSURE” are self-portraits. However, Tsoi-A-Sue also began using 3-D objects in his work. In “Experience,” a string connects the 2-D wall-hanging print to a cluster of objects on the floor, including rollerblades and toys.

“I’ve been trying to incorporate objects into my pieces recently,” Tsoi-A-Sue said. “It was kind of experimental for me because I was unsure about how the final piece would look until I actually set it up.”

Despite each artist’s use of different materials and methods, their work is united by a common aesthetic and purpose.

“Our stuff, as a whole, pretty much holds together,” said Torres, who draws influence from art he sees in the streets. “We’re always creating things that are similar.”

Martinez said the printmaking department is a close-knit family consisting of artists who naturally gravitate towards each other.

The artists cite printmaking professor Bradlee Shanks as their mentor. Shanks, who has specialized in printmaking throughout his career, said he enjoys witnessing the progress his students have made in the discipline and thinks “PRESSURE” epitomizes a mix of technical skill and abstract thought.

“It’s really cohesive, and it’s conceptually stimulating,” Shanks said. “It’s very poetic, and the imagery is very personal and metaphoric.”

According to Shanks, printmaking requires patience and perseverance, and the intricate and frustrating nature of the process discourages many artists.

“The students who gravitate towards it like process,” Shanks said. “But, they also like the meditative qualities of it, in that it does require you to be an engineer and chemist and is very comprehensive.”

Laven, Martinez, Torres and Tsoi-A-Sue said they hope the presence of “PRESSURE” in the Marshall Student Center’s (MSC) Centre Gallery will expose the general population of students to the art of printmaking.

Whitney Williams, a freshman majoring in chemistry, stumbled across the exhibit’s opening reception while walking around the MSC.

“I wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I really liked how they used real-world materials, and all of the print work and sculpture pieces.”

Ultimately, the artists said “PRESSURE” is a joint endeavor intended to draw attention to a lesser-known art form.

“For the most part, nobody really knows what printmaking is,” Laven said. “We’re trying to bring awareness to it and show that it’s viable in the contemporary art world.”