The process of printmaking is a metaphor for the making of a human being: from many layers, one is achieved. “It’s a dialogue,” explained Paul DeRuvo, Associate Staff Printer, while speaking about three print-portraits arranged together in “E Pluribus Unum: From Many, One,” at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking (CCP), another solid and expertly curated exhibition of superb and diverse examples of contemporary print methods curated by Kimberly Henrikson, Executive Director of CCP.
DeRuvo was talking specifically about artists Meg Turner, Elizabeth Peyton and Nicole Eisenman who are part of the seventeen artists in the exhibition which also features well-recognized artist-activists Swoon, Dana Schutz and Alison Saar. Addressing the theme of being human, the exhibition’s subject is the human body either in full form or as a portrait. From the exhibition statement: “We live in a time when it is critical that dialogue and respect among people of different backgrounds and viewpoints happen. The artworks on display are all contemporary figurative prints chosen for the way they present the subject without limiting the variety of printmaking processes used by the various artists. In doing so, the works offer a visual example of how varied people can be, one person to the next.”
The point of different/same is physical in some of the work and nuanced and hidden in others. For example, racial and ethnic diversity is obvious in four splendid realist portraits by Phong Bui. Each portrait depicts a standard portrait — face only — of a different person: “Stanley” — black man; “Pipilotti” — a white women; “Cai” — an Asian man; and “Alfredo” — a white man, in offset lithography on tea-stained paper with hand coloring in gouache and graphite. Each portrait is handled with the same process-manner to demonstrate that despite individual physical differences, each face is a human face.
While Bui’s realist portraits make a direct statement about our shared Humanity, other artists explore the subject through more subtle shades of expression and process that can sometimes be overlooked or ignored by the viewer. There are works in the exhibition that contain within their making remarkable complex background stories. At first visual reading of Nicole Eisenman’s “Picabia Filter II”, an intaglio, does not immediately attract attention. It depicts what looks like a female face in black-brown-yellow tones in a style that radiates a continuation of modernist sensibilities.
Upon second reading and with the assistance of Paul DeRuvo, as exhibition guide, Eisenman’s portrait took on a greater importance. First, it is a self-portrait, and second, it is an important example of how master-printmakers are combing traditional methods such as intaglio and drypoint with contemporary digital technology. DeRuvo revealed the complex and interesting backstory of the portrait’s intricate process, explaining that the artist employs filters used on social media platforms, such as Snapchat, to create a composite gender-vague human face against a background which shows what could be human breasts, again, vague in that the biological gender is not revealed.