Bold print: Two, Columbus artists are among nation's notable printmakers in new book

May 15, 2010 9:47:00 PM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


They hail from across the United States -- Australia and England, as well. Sixty-three contemporary printmakers whose work was chosen to document in the just-released "Printmakers Today," a 256-page full color compendium on those who create "museum quality work" while translating an ancient art with 21st century vision and technical skill. Almost remarkably, Columbus is home to two of the select company -- Mississippi University for Women faculty members Tom Nawrocki and Shawn Dickey.  


Nawrocki''s unique shape dimensional series titled "Zig Zag Zig," and Dickey''s ongoing three-dimensional body of screenprint work he calls "The Piedmont Sideshow," are each featured on a total of eight color pages. 


Edited by Jeffrey B. Snyder for Schiffer Books, "Printmakers Today" may well prove to be an ultimate reference for the modern printmaking industry and art enthusiast alike. The hardcover book is especially recommended for personal, professional, academic and community library contemporary art history collections. 




Floating world 


The art of printmaking originated in China after the circa 105 A.D. invention of paper, Snyder explains in the book''s introduction. Early Chinese artists began with stone rubbings and moved to woodcut relief printing late in the ninth century. As paper mills were built in Italy, France and Germany in the late 14th century, relief printing moved on to Europe. Japanese printmakers created Ukiyo-e, or "pictures of the floating world." 


As Snyder notes, the American colonies have artist Peter Pelham to thank for creating the first American mezzotint in 1728. Four families of printmaking eventually developed: relief, intaglio, lithography and silkscreen. But today''s artists are always experimenting, pushing traditional boundaries, and the digital age is making its impact. 


" ... In the right hands, any new technology, or a reinvented old one, may be used to create art," writes Snyder. 




Surfaces and shapes 


Nawrocki''s work has been featured in more than 400 shows around the world. In 2006, he was selected Visual Artist of the Year by the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters. He is professor of printmaking and fiber arts/weaving at MUW. 


"The common denominator in all of my work, from the time I was a grad student, is the shape silhouette," said the professor who just completed his 40th year of teaching at the university. "My involvement is to seek out a complex solution, one that is visually exciting and incredibly arresting, and build an image that no one else can simulate or copy. ... I''ve always utilized the philosophy that more is more." 


Dickey is one of his former students. After earning degrees in biology and printmaking, and then a master''s degree at Texas Tech University, Dickey first returned to teach at his local alma mater in 1994. He has been a full-time faculty member now for 12 years. The associate professor of art teaches drawing and photography. 


"I think we''re (printmakers) the most anal retentive of the art world, because we''re very process-driven," he said, with a short, wry laugh. 


Printmakers create a matrix, a foundation or surface, that they pull an impression off of. It''s a time-consuming and detailed, albeit creative, undertaking. 


Dickey continued, "We become addicted to order and repetition. For me, when I make a screen print, it''s so much work ... making the screen, deciding colors ... and I feel I''m carried along by the process. Yes, you''re creating a final thing, but it''s the process.  


"I''m learning something every time. Really and truly, as artists, we learn more by working than we do by completing something. ... It''s what keeps me going." 


Of his former instructor at the W, he said, "I think Tom encouraged me to work outside of any kind of limitations; he''s always been a very driven teacher about students expressing themselves." 




Sixes and sevens 


Nawrocki''s own "Zig Zag Zig" series incorporates digital imagery and rectilinear (formed by straight lines) as well as curved elements. All are hinged together, creating partially or fully animated pieces of art. A perceptive audience may pick up on the subtle numerology involved.  


"I utilize seven shapes to make up a single composition -- a single main shape and six supporting shapes, or leaves," the artist explained. "In Eastern culture, the odd numbers are considered masculine and even numbers feminine. I''m working with both: odds, with the seven total shapes, and evens, with the six supporting shapes. Both masculine and feminine. ... It''s also believed by some that we travel from this world to the next on the seventh ray of the sun," he illuminated.  


The professor, who does much of his work in a 1,000 square foot studio at home, creates relief, mezzo and color intaglio prints, as well. 




With the times 


Like Nawrocki, many artists are experimenting with digital processes. 


"The computer has changed everything," stated Dickey, who maintains a home studio, too. "Some things (in art) a computer will never touch, like ceramics, but in most every other area, the computer is making a big change." He hopes young artists will still pursue "hands on" callings. "So many parents today seem to be encouraging students to go into graphic design." 


The age-old processes will survive, he''s sure. 


"For every person who plays an MP3, there''s still someone convinced the sound is different on an LP," he said with a smile. "For every 10 people doing digital photography, there''s a curmudgeon somewhere who wants to hang on to analog film."  


Nawrocki urges artists to share their creativity with the rest of the world. 


"I don''t believe a work of art exists in the closet, or under a bed. I encourage students to place what they do in a gallery environment," he said. That philosophy has resulted in plenty of success by MUW students at intercollegiate competition. 


Both Columbus artists are active in their studios, pursuing projects established, as well as new. The process continues. 


"Yes, it''s the rewards and accolades of having your work recognized, and for people to purchase your work," shared Dickey, "but whether it''s a Sunday painter, or someone who does it their entire life, it''s that drive to just do and create. ... It''s more enriching than selling your work at a museum." 


Editor''s Note: "Printmakers Today" retails for $50. It is available at a discounted cost at online book sources including

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.