On a cold Thursday night in November, Walker Contemporaries members gathered in a room that looked somewhere between an industrial metal shop and a chic cocktail bar. The piping was exposed and the ceilings were unfinished, but the place was immaculately clean. A bartender passed out cocktails, and guests stood amongst all the massive pieces of stainless steel machinery chatting over Deviled Quail Eggs and Heirloom Tomato Tartar. No, it wasn’t the grand opening of a new industrial-themed lounge in the Warehouse District. This was the Highpoint Center for Printmaking in Lyn-Lake, where Walker contributing members were honored with a behind-the-scenes look at the nationally renowned printmaking shop.
Highpoint’s executive director, Carla McGrath, and artistic director/master printer, Cole Rogers began the night with a demonstration of the delicate process that goes into “taking ink from one surface and putting it onto another surface,” as Rogers so succinctly defined his craft. Highpoint’s Visiting Artists Program works with local, national, and international artists to create a series of original prints, which are sold and displayed in Highpoint’s gallery space.
Right now, the gallery is displaying prints from Parks Rapids, Minnesota-born sculptor made good, Aaron Spangler, and we were lucky enough to watch Senior Printer Zac Adams-Bliss press a sheet of lightweight Japanese paper against one of Spangler’s inked, hand carved woodblocks. While Adams-Bliss rubbed the paper with printing tools to transfer the image, Rogers spoke about the unique beauties of the printmaking process: “The first pieces Aaron brought in had a certain language to them, and all of a sudden, when you bring [the actual printmaking process] in, you’ve brought in another language.” Rogers also talked about the difference between digital printing and traditional printmaking: “If you do something that’s digital, everything happens in the digital environment, and then you output it to your printer. There’s not much of a chance for anything to happen between that and the final product. With printmaking, we’ve got this possibility to extend the idea.”
On a tour through the gallery, we got to see the just what a difference Highpoint’s artisanal process can make. The prints in Spangler’s series, fittingly titled Luddite, have a remarkable sense of physical process to them. You can see the outlines of the plywood boards they were printed on. The wood also has thematic meaning for Spangler, who spent time working in his hometown’s saw mill.
For another piece, Rogers explained to us how Spangler used a Tandy leather stamp they had in the shop to create one of the crosshatched patterns on the woodblock. This is another one of the often underappreciated aspects of printmaking, Rogers says. “It’s not about reproducing something. It’s about an artist coming in and working with the material and exploring…if we were reproducing a painting or a watercolor, they would never get a chance to really have the material say something different to them.”
Throughout the night, Rogers and McGrath answered questions from Walker Contemporaries: How involved are the artists in the printmaking process? Which framer do you guys work with? Is there a name for the technique you used in this print? Between their thoughtful answers and insightful anecdotes on the history of printmaking, the nature of the art market, and more, the night was an incredible opportunity to look behind the curtain at an artistic process few people ever get to see up close.