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December, 2005

A Summer at New Grounds Print Workshop, Albuquerque, NM
By Janet Maher

Artist member Elizabeth Roll in the main workshop of New Grounds.
Artist member Elizabeth Roll
in the main workshop of New Grounds.
Click for larger view.


  Albuquerque, New Mexico, has long been a printmaker's paradise. The exceptional printmaking department at the University of New Mexico [http://www.unm.edu/~prints/], where Garo Antreasian, Clinton Adams, Jane Abrams, and Jose Rodriguez taught—and where Lydia Madrid still teaches—has produced a wealth of students and a large ripple effect of future teachers from the 1960s onward. Tamarind Institute [http://www.unm.edu/~tamarind/], across the street, brings famous artists to town to collaborate with their master printer, Bill Lagatutta, and select students as they work to complete their Tamarind Master Printer training under the direction of Rodney Hamon. Albuquerque is also home to Takach Press [http://www.takachpress.com/etchtbl/ frmainnf.htm], a long-standing family business that has become an international supplier of printmaking equipment. An amazing place to visit, you can have a friendly personal tour through their operation and marvel first hand at the craftsmanship involved at this end of the printmaking spectrum, where the Takach brothers even make the machinery that makes the printmaking equipment.

I consider Regina Held's New Grounds Print Workshop, to be a major jewel in the city's printmaking crown. Having known Regina since the mid 90s, when I went back to school to complete my MFA degree and she was completing hers, I am totally impressed with the significant art center she has created and established after her graduation from UNM. Regina Held is a whirlwind of activity and an expert multi-tasker, the focused force that keeps a wide range of endeavors in motion within a vital community of artists and art collectors. A treasure trove of printmaking, New Grounds is located along the main drag—Central Avenue—just above Albuquerque's hopping Nob Hill Center, where you can eat, drink, read, and shop until you drop.

It all began with a non-toxic studio in her remodeled South Valley garage, where artists would rent press access on an hourly basis and Regina taught classes. At that time, New Grounds also offered papermaking classes and access to the papermaking studio. In 2000, Regina expanded to the current 3500 square foot commercial space in Nob Hill. Now, more than five years later, New Grounds includes a thriving gallery that represents member and international artists whose works Regina consigns. It is also a shared workspace where resident artists have the use of two large print rooms, five presses, comfortable work and storage areas, a break room, and areas in which to shoot photographic plates for gravures and to etch plates for intaglio prints. Another entire room, with its own press, is devoted to classes, where everything from monotype to the alternative process, gumoil printing, is taught. New Grounds also offers a cost plus framing service.

At any one time there might be 200 framed works on the walls throughout the entire space, featuring new editions and artists each month. Bins hold unframed works, presented in the professional manner that Regina has established—paper works are slipped into archival storage bags, each with a print documentation sheet and information sheet about the artist. A reception is held in the gallery every month as each new show is featured as part of Albuquerque's city-wide First Friday ArtsCrawl, and visitors wander in every day for impromptu tours and to purchase prints.

This year, a Summer Research Grant from Loyola College, where I am an associate professor, allowed me the great privilege of spending an entire month at New Grounds, working with my friend in the marvel of the world she has painstakingly created. With her focus upon non-toxic materials, Regina was a fount of knowledge about the Akua-kolor inks with which she stocks the studio. She led me through the finer points of using this ink, which I had been working with before in a much more wasteful manner. By building up several even layers on small plexiglass plates with two drops (and only two drops) of ink with equal amounts of extender, she demonstrated a flawless way to create lush monotype color with no "orange peel" texture—the bane of pure pigment Akua-kolor ink when applied too thickly. Some of the New Grounds artists, notably Leonora Durret, create very large monotype and monoprint works using this ink. I watched in fascination as Leonora gradually built up her lush landscapes begun from collagraph plates and completed with many thin layers of painterly monotype detail. This was a revelation for me regarding a process I thought I understood.

Like Leonora, each of the member artists seems to be expert in some aspect of printmaking, while all are quite different from each other. Some employ quick, loose methods of working, but many are deeply involved with traditional forms that require great levels of skill and patience. Each has an individual web page on the New Grounds web site. [See the gallery section at www.newgroundsprintshop.com/index.html]. My dear friend, multi-media artist Suzanne Marshall, includes computer-assisted images with a free-wheeling approach to combining plates while printing. Using chine collé and multiple photogravures, she maintains a freshness in her work that defies the amount of preparation and trial-and-error that each requires. Married to a physicist, Suzanne includes obscure scientific references that appear highly symbolic and profound, while they simultaneously deny such profundity due to her lighthearted style and the inclusion of quirky imaginative figures that she creates.

Sarah Karnes, who also has a private studio upstairs in the building and had a booth at the juried New Mexico Arts and Crafts show (where she was the first place winner last year), is a master of gravure and mezzotint. She is about to take on another topic, having produced approximately 100 intricate images of stones over the last few years. Her compositions of the smoothly rounded forms, set against each other in familial arrangements, are gorgeous to behold. All black and white, her images are revealed through careful burnishing after days of meticulous rocking of etching plates in a very specific pattern. Sarah's dark-valued with highlight mezzotints depicting the stones' soft contours appear in small prints in a manner equally as controlled and perfect as her rendered drawings are in graphite. Sometimes she will shoot photographic plates of pencil drawings on mylar, or intricate lines scratched into an opaque material to create white marks in a dark field, to print as photogravures.

While the photographic method of gravure may seem to be a simple aid to creating plates, having spent many hours learning this process myself at New Grounds, I can attest to the tedium of finding the correct output of image, layered with the correct exposure of plate, layered with the difficulty of not "over-wiping" the very thin polymer. (Add to those variables the need to learn the knack of keeping all areas perfectly dust free!) Rob Thalmann, however, is a master of the photogravure print. His photographs of male nudes exemplify the best of photographic composition and tonal balance with his skillful printing in warm sepia and blacks. One visitor to the shop was speechless upon seeing a print in progress and asked to buy an impression from him right off the press, then and there, while the paper was still damp.

Rob is one of Regina's assistants in the shop, in charge of all the matting and framing of works. In collaboration with a local frame maker and a photographer who shoots slides for artists, Regina has set up a system in which the member artists can have their works photographed and framed in-house. Each week the photographer picks up prints to be photographed, and a phone call orders specific sized frames in the styles the artists choose. Upon delivery, Rob will cut mats for the prints, frame them, and immediately hang them. The artists pay for this service at cost and, quite often, the works are sold even before the artists have been billed for the prep-work. Indeed, the works fly out the door at New Grounds!
 
Regina Held, director of New Grounds Print Workshop, giving a monotype demo.
Regina Held, director of
New Grounds Print Workshop,
giving a monotype demo.
Click for larger view.


  Along with Rob, Aaron Bass works as an assistant to Regina, keeping hours when she is not at the shop, and helping with office and computer work. A graduate student at the University of New Mexico, Aaron is immersed in printmaking on several levels as he divides his time between both places. His work is hauntingly beautiful, with a personal language that feels authentic while seeming to guard a darkly vibrant inner world.

Ray Maseman's etchings evoke a poetic personal language—a contemporary surrealism that encourages gentle reverie on the part of the viewer. Sarah Anderson's deftly composed solitary women, so strong in their use of monotype color and simple line, are (I am told) deceptively quickly drawn and printed. She uses her life model studies as bases for her monotypes, often creating compositions of large groups of people for her highly successful "Socialite" series.

Beautiful decorative and handmade papers are in ready access in Albuquerque, with Papers! not far down the street from New Grounds. (Whether I needed to or not, I stopped in a great many times there during my visit—a favorite place in town.) A new paper store, Papergami, with a branch in Santa Fe, features colorful complex Asian designs and hosts a gallery that exhibits works by artists who incorporate the papers sold there. [Artist Suzanne Sbarge had an exquisite show there which I was lucky enough to catch and grateful to see.] Vicki Bolen is a New Grounds artist who makes great use of decorative papers that she acquires from stores such as these, preparing collaged surfaces before she prints.

Reggie Gammon, one of a group of us who exhibited in France the year I moved to Baltimore, is a mainstay of the Albuquerque arts scene. Former "king" of the Harwood Art Center (another important center of galleries and artists' studios in Albuquerque), he is a well loved and steady presence at New Grounds, full of stories and camaraderie. His images of blues musicians, singers and instrumental figures within Black history are popularly collected. Michael Gienger, with whom Regina often exhibited in the early days of New Grounds, draws intoxicating complexities on paper that he produces in gravure. His images are a treat for the eye and mind as one wanders through his tangles of lines and stipple, attempting to decipher their mysteries. Surely not least is Regina herself, recently involved in mixed media processes that allow her to still produce artwork even though she works, seemingly, around the clock at her business. Regina's images of flowers appear Medieval in their juxtapositions with architecture and knotted ribbons. Many have begun as prints and been completed as layered drawings with creamy, translucent surfaces.
Aaron Bass, Regina Held, and Rob Thalman, taking a break from preparing for an exhibition.
Aaron Bass, Regina Held,
and Rob Thalman, taking a break
from preparing for an exhibition.
Click for larger view.


Printmakers, give yourselves a gift sometime and visit what I like to call my soul's hometown, Albuquerque, New Mexico. There is more to do and see there than you might imagine, so eager do people tend to be to head off to glitzier Santa Fe.

Check it all out, of course, but be sure to run—don't walk—to New Grounds Print Workshop (3812 Central Ave. SE #100 B, Albuquerque, NM, 87108, 505.268.8952). Tell them Janet sent you and give them all a big hug from me.

 
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