Unfinished story: Narrative printmaking exhibition opens at Blue Spiral 1

Local artist Andy Farkas works primarily on engravings and Japanese woodblock prints known as moku hanga. The process, he says, results in “a more watercolor-y feel” — rather than rolling ink onto a carved block or plate, the woodblock itself is moistened and ink is added directly to it. “You have complete control over spot coloring and gradients,” says Farkas.

He was invited to speak and lead a workshop on narrative printmaking at this year’s International Mokuhanga Conference in Japan (slated for September), and Farkas’ first local exhibition at Blue Spiral 1 opens on Thursday, May 29.

Poetic phrases, added by letterpress, allude to a storyline. They offer a window into a plot that is filled with possibilities. “I feel like there’s so much that words can say or that they’re good at saying,” says Farkas.

The artist studied printmaking in school, but his current work is different from his student efforts. “When you get out of art school, you think you’re going to make artwork that artists should make,” says Farkas. His early pieces were well-received by the public and by galleries, and he was eventually invited to contribute to a project that would change his trajectory: illustrating a poetry journal. There, Farkas was given complete freedom.

“For the first time in, I don’t know, forever, I did this bear wearing a parachute being lifted up into the clouds,” he says. The project was fun, and to Farkas’ surprise, it caught people’s attention. “That was something I didn’t expect. You know, cute animals are not in the realm of professional artists, but I have since changed my mind on that.”

The 16 or 17 pieces on exhibit at Blue Spiral 1 will have fantastical animal images alongside the text. Farkas steers clear of human figures in his work, focusing exclusively on animals. In his experience, viewers subconsciously assess human forms as male or female and ponder race, body type and other subtle valuations. “There’s just not as much baggage [with an animal] as a human figure,” Farkas says.

Through the use of personified animals and in the airiness of the accompanying text, the lack of restrictions is important to the artist. “I think by creating an open-endedness, it makes it so somebody can carry [the story] where they want to, or ideally where they need to carry it,” he says. “When people come to my work, I want them to be able to bring to it what they have.”

Even as he incorporates text, his “story prints,” as he calls them, leave room for a lingering mystery beyond the vignette. The unfinished storyline is a conscious choice, Farkas says. “If what I had to say was too specific, it was too limiting. It would either pigeonhole something, or it was preachy, or it would not be true enough to my own experience.”

The artist has plans to restart his print subscription. That project, he says, can be viewed as single prints, but the grouping can be taken in as a whole and even rearranged. And Farkas is also working on an artist book — some of the prints included in it hang in the Blue Spiral 1 exhibition. Even though that loosely woven story has a beginning, middle and end, Farkas says, “I try to keep it as open as possible.”

Unfinished story: Narrative printmaking exhibition opens at Blue Spiral 1

WHAT Andy Farkas exhibition

WHERE Blue Spiral 1, bluespiral1.com

WHEN Opening reception on Thursday, May 29, 5-8 p.m. The show remains on display through July 26.

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