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Printing Portland

Local artists reclaim mass production
By IAN PAIGE  |  February 18, 2009

PLAYING MUSIC WITH INK: Zack Howard at work.

"The manufacturers discontinued the materials, so we're out, but even if we could order more, we couldn't meet the demand," says recent Maine College of Art graduate Kris Johnsen about the sales of Gocco screen-printing systems. The simple retro aesthetic of the increasingly rare kits have made it the Polaroid film of the printing world. Johnsen has turned to printmaking himself, even though his degree focused on other media, and, as an employee of the Art Mart next to the college, Johnsen can see the cash register activity as proof that people in Portland are screen-printing more than ever.

Institutions are moving to meet this rekindled interest. MECA introduced an beginning printmaking course that filled up immediately. When Joel Seah joined the faculty at the University of Southern Maine, his dedication to printmaking lit up the art department, and an enthusiastic response saw student work pouring out into the hallways of the campus.

Outside academy borders, a small but dedicated group of artists has come of age as professional printers. Dominic D'Alessio founded Evolve2Advance several years ago as a collective corralling Portland designers working primarily with paper and textile printing. The organization continues, but D'Alessio has turned his attention to the communal aspects of his work to develop the Arm Factory, a new print cooperative he runs with MECA graduate Darrell Tapley and Bob Smith, the designer behind the hypnotic RATIO line of prints. The trio joined forces to lower their overhead and advance their personal work, while sharing their knowledge with the community.

"The medium itself, the mass communication, means you don't have to have to go to a gallery to see the work and the mass accessibility means you can step over the artist/viewer line and create a poster yourself," says D'Alessio as he weaves between the industrial machines peppering the Arm Factory. Now that he does a have a space, First Fridays are a time to bring in an audience. Derek Jackson is currently showing and the March 6 opening of Pat Palmer's "Flow" will continue the Factory's trajectory of live artmaking and demonstrations.

Portlanders are exposed to the fruits of printers' labor every day in the resurgence of concert posters popping up on city streets. Many of the printers in town lead double lives as musicians. "It's often musicians who are drawn to this," muses D'Alessio. "I'm thinking of Zack Howard, who plays in [Portland rock band] Conifer. That's how he makes a poster — he plays music with the different elements."

Reuben Little, who plays in the Portland band Ocean, has done much to professionalize the concert-poster trend with his 43rd Parallel Press. Little has honed a style that modernizes the psychedelic posters of the '60s with vivid colors and harmonious composition while tempering the mass production elements of the business with the attention of a true craftsman. Leif Sherman Curtis, who works with Little at the press, notes that "growing up in the '90s, rock posters were terrible, and now we're seeing a quality of work that hasn't been there for decades."

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Related: The outsiders, Letters to the Portland editor: March 20,2009, Music Seen: Ocean and Pontiak, More more >
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Barack Obama, Che Guevara, Visual Arts,  More more >
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