Struts Gallery pairs the work of Les Newman and Julie Voyce, presenting two discrete bodies of work that refuse to remain separate. These pictures, so highly invested in step-by-step print processes, cry out to each other in a dialogue that simultaneously resists, addresses and embraces traditional ideals that used to define artistic production of the Fine Print.
The unique matrix and identical multiples so relevant to the history of printmaking are now politicized turf in this era of critical attack on theories of originality. All the ethically troubled, politically charged historical implications surrounding traditional handmade multiples — the unique gesture, the artist/creator as erotically enhanced lonely male genius, the transcendent object intended for capitalist exchange — all these problematics are active in the Newman/Voyce fields of production. Newman and Voyce embrace the printmaking tradition with loving confidence in the enduring aesthetic potentials of the medium while at the same time determinedly messing up the integrity and purity of the same tradition. They perform their resistance to the beat of old-time commercial print
processes, low-tech versions of digital technology, jokey texts, fond evocations of Dr. Seuss and counterfeit visions of painterly language.
Thus rich with humour, pop visual conventions and luscious decoration, the most surprising aspect is the rigorous procedural formality that governs the creation of the works by both artists. Newman’s pictures dispense with illusions of pictorial space, resembling instead the simple figure-ground relationship of notes thumb-tacked to a bulletin board. This apparent simplicity, however, is grounded in a material process the complexity of which is worthy of the most traditional old Master Printer. As Newman describes his process, “The images depicted in the prints were first created on a computer with a low quality screen, using only the simple ‘Draw’ tools in Word Perfect 5.0. The
image on the computer screen was then photographed using a 35mm camera and a print developed from the negative. This print is then scanned back into a computer and manipulated using Photoshop. The grain of the original photograph is removed while retaining the exaggerated pixellation and distortion of the original print.”
Similarly, Voyce states, “Printmaking is riding an image through a number of molecular structures.” Her working process consists of faux pixellation patternmaking employing stencils, an old treasured set of Letraset dots and digital printouts of pixel patterns. These initial hand-crafted mock-ups are then rendered as black-and-white photocopies. The next stage involves photographically reproducing colour separations of the image on multiple screens. Finally, a serigraph print is created with each colour printed as an individual overlay.
Both artists acknowledge commercial art processes and visual conventions as intrinsic to their work. In a clash between the industrial means and the artists’ stated philosophical intents, a complex tension arises. The charged aesthetic of these prints lives and breathes as a result of this tension. For example, despite the appearance of pure decorative abstraction in Voyce’s work, representation is the hub from which each image radiates. She comments that, “Representation is the reason for the formal elements. A link to representation is doubly linked to a sense of accountability to visual experience and to design as a mode for problem-solving in daily life. The titles I give to the prints are keys
to representational links.” Newman takes a more overtly political stance when he
claims, “to expose a sham consumer narrative and reveal a bittersweet poetics of everyday life… this work folds in on itself to expose an agony of lost meaning and expression in a capitalist context.”
Surprisingly, as I have noted, Newman and Voyce situate their resolution of conflicting value systems within the tradition of the handmade print. Resolution, however, probably implies too tidy an outcome. Better to say that Newman and Voyce control the territorial conflict with a good deal of artistic muscle. This is work that openly co-habitates a social bed of capitalist “sham consumer narratives”. Resistance remains active because these prints exceed their designation as consumer objects – they forcefully lay claim to the concurrent status of art. The aesthetic potential inherent in such a turf war is famously promoted by Georges Bataille, who proposes the possibility of thinking about art as a
practice that can exist only by virtue of the passionate coupling of ethics and transgression. Does the truly ethical path always require a negotiated settlement between the conflicting forces of subjective desire and social existence? Georges Bataille says, “No”. The key factor here is that resistance, for Bataille, is always necessarily played out within the existing field of the social domain. Real transgression does not simply defeat the opposing force and banish it from the field. Instead, real transgression is socially embedded transgression with all the conflict that that implies. Newman’s print text says it well, “Maaaaan, I’m busy reflecting on the poetics of everyday modern life here!” This seems to me to be an exemplary critical project for contemporary art.
– Sheila Butler