The art of the print at Green Hill

by Amy Kingsley

Bill Fick orchestrates the installation of the Green Hill Center’s latest exhibit – Printed – from a glowing laptop near the center of the main gallery.

He’s sitting at a folding table amongst the workers and the mirrored picture frames, his long body bent over the keyboard. Behind him, one of his assistants hangs bright, geometric Ann Conner prints on a wall. Fick gestures toward a small room half hidden by a column.

“Roughly what we’re doing is making an area where all the book arts and smaller pieces will be,” he says, pointing toward custom books mounted like exotic fowl.

Printed is as comprehensive a survey of printmaking in the Old North State as a fan of the form could want. The exhibit includes 43 artists from Wilmington, Asheville and all points between working in media as diverse as letterpresses and tea bags.

“I’ve tried to incorporate work that includes print concepts and processes but wouldn’t normally be considered prints,” Fick says.

The exhibit starts among the book arts and letterpresses. On the floor near a deck of cards from Blue Barnhouse Press lays a large quilt stitched from embroidered scraps – an example of Fick’s inclusive philosophy. The work has few of the hallmarks of traditional printmaking.

“She’s taken these antique embroidered pieces,” Fick says, “and embroidered on the pieces phrases repeated over and over again in the text.”

Fick’s own printmaking is quite traditional. He does linoleum prints and, in a less rarefied setting, the work he has hanging on the wall could pass for tattoo flash.

Fick earned his Master of Fine Arts from UNCG in 1990 and has been making art between teaching gigs at places like the Pratt Institute and Duke University, where he holds a visiting professorship. He’s always liked linoleum.

“The thing about linoleum that’s nice is that I draw the idea on the block,” he says. “Then I have to dig out the relief and run it through the press. There is a part that’s drawing and another that’s sculptural. It’s a mixture, and I like the combination.”

It’s democratic, Fick says.

“People usually learn it in grade school,” he says. “It has a basic-ness that I really like.”

Almost all the work in Printed is fine art, but that doesn’t change the proletarian origins of the printmaking tradition.

“Printmaking comes out of a very populist place,” Fick says. “You’ve got movie posters, albums and cards. This is the way we communicated before photography.”

To illustrate this point, Fick has devoted one wall to the hand-printed sleeves of 7-inch singles. Clark Whittington of Winston-Salem’s Art-o-Mat is hanging pieces culled from the converted cigarette machines.

“The concept is that it’s not one precious piece,” Whittington says. “This is art that is not precious.”

Fick was approached by the Green Hill Center more than a year ago. He called his friends in the printmaking community and asked them to call their friends. The whole thing snowballed from a few artists into the dozens represented here.

“There are a lot of artists I missed,” he says. “And the reason for that is that it filled up pretty fast.”

There are digital prints aplenty, and more rare incarnations of the form like vitreographs by Littleton Studios out of Spruce Pine.

“Most artists use metal, stone or wood,” Fick says. “They use glass. The studio started in the seventies, and they didn’t invent the process but they definitely championed it.”

In some cases, Fick has enshrined the tools of the printmaking trade next to the finished work. David Faber, a faculty member at Wake Forest University, makes mezzotints, an older style in which the artist pits metal plates with long-handled tools, and then burnishes a smooth image.

“A lot of the printmakers are mixing the techniques up,” Fick says. “One of the goals of this show was to bring all these different groups together. We’re trying to get a little more organized, and in the process to expand upon the idea of what printmaking is.”

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