The Chicago Printmakers Collaborative is finally old enough
When printmaker Deborah Maris Lader moved to Chicago in 1989, she quickly realized that while the city had plenty of great art schools, there weren't places for printmakers to practice their craft once they'd graduated. Printmaking generally involves huge, expensive equipment—the type of machinery that colleges can afford to buy and store, but that most artists cannot. Lader's solution was to found the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative, which celebrates its 15th anniversary with a retrospective exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center starting Saturday 3.
The collaborative resided in Ukrainian Village before moving six years ago to its current location in Lincoln Square. From the sidewalk, the storefront is unassuming—although all the windows of the three stories above are covered with 648 individual prints of faces of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq. Inside is a barrage of presses the size of small autos, plus huge worktables, private studios and curious antique equipment made of cast iron.
Whereas painters are free to hole up and create art at all hours, most printmakers don't have that luxury. CPC members, however, can get their midnight inspirations set to paper. Potential members undergo a thorough screening process, and if they're granted a set of keys, they have access to etching and lithography presses, inks, plates, a darkroom and other amenities 24 hours a day. Lader credits the shared use of equipment with creating a tight community feel.
"There's a beautiful unspoken dialogue here," she says, noting that the members often learn new techniques from one another and are constantly inspired by each other's work. The prints are in plain view; they hang on virtually all the walls and are in constant rotation.
The collaborative boasts a membership of more than 100 working artists from all over the globe. Until recently, it was also a training facility: Group classes were offered to guide students through different methods of printmaking and show them how to use the equipment. These classes are on indefinite hiatus, though private instruction is still available. The group workshops had become so popular that it was hard for members to come in and work without having to maneuver around students.
Lader was a student herself when she fell in love with printmaking. While studying sculpture at Cornell, she took a printmaking class and realized that it incorporated drawing, which she missed doing, and working with different materials such as wood, stone and metal—the same elements she loved about sculpting. She changed majors immediately.
"I look at printmaking as layers," she says, pointing to a screenprint on the wall that one of the members made using 72 different screens. "For me, it has all the right ingredients."
In its 16 years, the collaborative has produced remarkably varied art. The exhibit at the Chicago Cultural Center features the work of 26 members. Among them is Carlos Cortez, an artist and poet who died earlier this year. Cortez was a labor activist and a conscientious objector during WWII, which got him two years at a federal penitentiary in Minnesota. His piece in the exhibit, To Fan The Flames!, is a black-and-white concert poster for an event hosted by the Industrial Workers of the World (of which Cortez was a member). Imagine if Kathe Kollwitz had designed a benefit concert poster for Woody Guthrie.
Also present is a work by renowned local artist Tony Fitzpatrick and a Polaroid emulsification print by Lader—an image of one of her sons assembled with several tissuelike photographed sections. The exhibit also features a set of smaller works from some of the print suites created over the years. The prints—roughly the size of a vinyl album cover—is about the only common trait, as the styles run the gamut.
"It's a small niche," Lader says of her field, "but there're always going to be people that love the feel of ink under their fingernails."
"On the Mark: Chicago Printmaker's Collaborative: 1989–2005" is on view at the Chicago Cultural Center Sat 3 through Nov 6.