Print Exchanges: Lunch Money Print

A practice that used to be rather informal or rare, called a print exchange, seems to be on the rise.  Increasingly small fine art print presses, print publishers, and enterprising artists make ends meet by organizing these exchanges.  The practice is obviously predicated on the simple concept of barter.  Rather than buy prints from other printmakers, one artist can simply trade: “one of your prints” for “one of mine”.

Historically speaking, there are plenty of examples of printmakers gifting prints to friends, going all the back to the 19th century (see for instance Charles Houdard’s Frogs from 1894).  But it’s likely that true “swapping” of prints only started to occur in the context of co-op print studios.  There, printmakers would have the opportunity to admire a fellow artist’s work readily.  It is known that at Atelier 17, arguably the first true cooperative print studio, artists exchanged artwork frequently.  Here’s an example of Sam Kaner dedicating a print made during his time at Atelier 17 to John Buckland-Wright.

Sam Kaner - dedicated to John Buckland-Wright - Atelier 17

While these kinds of exchanges are completely informal, the concept of the “open portfolio” somewhat formalizes the practice.  Instead of trading during a casual encounter in the studio, or because of mutual admiration, printmakers are invited to a studio social, where everyone opens portfolios of recent work.  During such events, everyone gets to look at everyone else’s work.  While some such events are meant to be an opportunity to show a broad selection of prints to a public of buyers, it is often a time when printmakers can swap work as well.  Open portfolios can be held with only studio artists attending, while many tend to open their doors to all comers.

In contrast to the informality of past swapping opportunities, today many print exchanges have a codified format.  Artists sign up for a fee, which is generally low.  They agree to send in 8, 10, or 12 impressions of a print they create.  In exchange, they expect to receive back a random assortment of prints by other participants.  Usually each participant agrees to get back one or two impression fewer than what they sent in.  The exchange organizers fund their activity with the fees collected, as well as with the sale of the impressions that have been “left behind”.

Lunch Money Print - Print Exchange

Today we wanted to highlight one print exchange in particular.  Connecticut-based Lunch Money Print (LMP) launched in 2017 with a mission we admire: “Lunch Money Print is an art gallery and frame shop dedicated to supporting artists and promoting the craft of printmaking”.  In 2019 they ran their first print exchange, signing up nearly 70 printmakers, who created a works on 11 x 13 sheets of paper.  In our opinion, the selection of artists who signed up, and the works sent in, yielded some of the highest quality work we’ve seen in such a context.  For that reason, it was easy for us at Mesh to support the efforts of LMP and buy some of these works.  We strongly encourage you to do the same.  Wonderful works remain available, and are priced so reasonably, you’d be crazy not to buy them.  Take a look, for instance, at Natalia Tcherniak’s cyanotype titled Contemporary Ruins Cavities.  The composition is inventive and dramatic; and the post-apocalyptic thematic feels so relevant in today’s consumerist society.

Below we share some of the works we acquired, and a write a few words about each artist’s work.  We encourage you to visit LMP to see more of the great selection of artwork, or to acquire your own print.  And if any of the works below speak to you, click on the link to each individual artist’s website to see how to acquire their work, or support their creative efforts.  You can’t go wrong either way!

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Nikki Barber - Gothic Basin

Of course we have to start this overview by introducing Nikki Barber’s wonderful view of the Gothic Basin trail in Washington State.  Mesh Art Gallery has proudly presented Nikki’s prints from its inception, and for good reason.  Nikki, who is primarily working in color woodcut, but also prints monochromatically and etches on occasion, creates simple and attractive images.  Her art is nourished by nature, where she spends as much time as possible.  In Gothic Basin she uses a color fade in the background, to create the soft glow of a sunset in the sky.  The contrast with the foreground, an effect Nikki uses very effectively on occasion in other works, reminds us of shadow plays.  While the influence of Japanese esthetic is obvious, its inspiration results in a composition all her own.  The juxtaposition of shades of darkness in the raggedly delineated tree lines is so wonderfully… gothic!  To discover Nikki Barber’s work more intimately, click HERE.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Paul_DeRuvo - Waiting

Paul DeRuvo: Waiting.  This drypoint and engraving, which seems to be a self-portrait of the artist, is cleverly contrasted.  The oversized hands stand out against the bright apron, which itself stands out against the vigorous lines of the drypoint background.  DeRuvo also very intelligently plays with similar chiaroscuro in the face.  Dark hair is depicted using negative space: the area is delineated only.  The strands of hair are not outlined.  The viewer’s eye has to fill that part in.  Meanwhile, shadows under the nose and chin loom, pensively.  It’s one of the better drypoint self-portraits we’ve seen in a long time; maybe since those of Marcellin Desboutin (… look him up… if you don’t know him).  Find out more about Paul DeRuvo HERE.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Annie Lee-Zimerle - Drummer

Annie Lee-Zimerle mostly paints and draws; and as a printmaker she has worked primarily in serigraphy (a.k.a. silkscreen).  She has however created lithographs and intaglios as well.  For LMP she composed a very elegant etching with aquatint, printed on a lovely chine-collé.  Drummer is oblong, and horizontal, suggesting space surrounding this narrative.  While the gong or drum is prominent, looking planetary, stellar one might say, it seems the world surrounding the drummer is even more vast than that.  The reference to heavenly rhythm or chiming is accentuated by texture in the chine.  The specks in the texture of the chine-collé paper make the plate’s area look like a firmament.  All aspects of the way this image was built show a visual intelligence, and an attention to details which is uncommon.  And Lee-Zimerle brings it together in a way that somehow seems effortless.  In all of its simplicity, Drummer is amazingly layered, in our opinion.  Find out more about Annie Lee-Zimerle HERE.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Carla Marie Bratt - One Fish Blue Fish

This fun little etching by Carla Marie Bratt is exquisitely tinted.  While the etched blacks dominate, the shimmers of bluish-green ink in the background creates an attractive underlayer.  The fish is seemingly out of the water in this composition, curiously resting on white surface, the light plays on the surface of its scales much in the same way as it would for a fish swimming in a pond however.  The same way light would pierce through the surface of the water, and strike the shiny swimmer, we experience the reflection of its metallic texture in this print.  While only simple color ink was used, rather than some kind of metallic pigment, the fish seems to glisten in the light.  It’s a lovely etching.  And if you think it is so, we would suggest you take a closer look at Carla Marie Bratt’s main body of work HERE.  She carves gourds (the fruit) with similar fish compositions.  But while “our” fish is simple and detached from its surroundings, in her carved fruits, Carla Marie Bratt creates complex, rich, layered and textured worlds, that lend the feeling of peering into a jewel box overflowing with treasures.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Alessandra Hogan - The Rose

Rose shows Alexandra Hogan’s predilection for mark making.  We haven’t asked her what prompted the decision to engrave it, so our assessment is only an interpretation.  However, from what the artist has posted of her work online (check it out HERE and HERE), it seems drawing comes naturally to her.  And her works seems most fluid when it is made up of lots of lines.  She draws human form with ease: portraits, nudes, shadows…  This small engraving is using a stipple technique, where differing densities of tiny dots combine to become texture, color, or grayscale.  Almost photographic in its precision, the colors chosen by the artist feel faded, from another time.  This way a slightly sad expression emanates from the composition.  The Rose may have been given a long time ago.  It’s a memento.  And the viewer gets to decide what kind of memory is associated with it.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Carolyn Muskat - Floating

It is.  Floating.  Yes, it’s indeed floating.  The title of the work is right on the money.  Compositionally speaking it may seem Carolyn Muskat’s lithograph is an abstraction, but it reads like tiny leaves floating on the surface of dark pond water.  Duckweed hovering atop still and impenetrable waters is so attractive; and the artist has depicted it with elegance.  The fluorescent green we associate with it isn’t seen here, but you can find it in a variant on this composition, titled Boundaries which you can see HERE.  In this work the simplified color scheme affords a variety of interpretations, going back to the reality it depicts, of completely invented.  Am I looking at a dark sky?  Why is this red dot there?  In much of her work Muskat is an observer of nature who pares it down to its essential qualities.  Often these observations remain fairly realistic, sometimes, like it is in Floating, reality become texture, rhythm or pattern.

Print Exchange - Lunch Money Print - Nina-Jordan - Warehouse Mountain

I’ll close with a bring woodcut by Nina Jordan, who mixes a colorful whimsy with a style reminiscent of German Expressionism of the early 20th century.  She likes to depict buildings in her prints; preferably the kind that are unassuming.  In Warehouse Mountain the glorious peaks are echoed in the mundane storage facilities standing in their way.  But the contrast of the white buildings, against the purple hills and greenish foreground, works magnificently.  What surely must be a drab vantage point, is glorified into a color composition in which complementary alternates with contrast, and curve with rectilinear.  How simple and beautiful.

As we publish this article Lunch Money Print has just listed the works of 2020 participants.  This year’s edition brings together 72 works by artists from Australia, Europe, North and South America.  It is again an opportunity to discover and buy works by artists who often receive little attention in mainstream art circles.  Take a look HERE.  You will not be disappointed.

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