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Artist helps create buzz around printmaking

Saskatchewan artist Monique Martin, who put together the new printmaking exhibit, Repetition, at the Humboldt Gallery, came to town on May 21 to talk about the exhibit as well as her own work, which is also displayed.
Monique Martin - Repetition

Saskatchewan artist Monique Martin, who put together the new printmaking exhibit, Repetition, at the Humboldt Gallery, came to town on May 21 to talk about the exhibit as well as her own work, which is also displayed.

Printmaking isn’t particularly well-known in Saskatchewan and part of what Martin tries to do is to educate the public on different techniques and art available in the province.

“It’s not (well known),” she said. “This is good that I got the time to give education on it.”

She talked about the processes used in the printmaking on display in the gallery and then went into detail on her works, which shows bees in a hive.

“I hope people learn that the word print involves the carving or etching or the large processes of printmaking,” Martin said. “That is not the same as taking a photo of something and putting it into the copier, because that’s a reproduction. I hope people walk away knowing the difference between a print and a reproduction. That’s my goal. That’s the total goal of putting together this whole thing.”

With her bee prints, she had to carve the bee bodies and then print each body two or three times to get enough ink. This required lining the bee body up exactly each time (called “registration”). Then when she was done printing the yellow bodies, she had to print the black stripes over top.

“If you miss with one bee … it’s a really bad day when that happens,” she said. “The pressure and the excitement when it does happen, when you put that last colour on, and it all links together, is super, super exciting.”

Sometimes the pressure is almost too much – in her artist talk, she told the story of a student who asked her to line up the carvings for her because she had made several mistakes before. Martin did it, but had to ask people not to watch her because, as she said, it’s nervewracking work.

“There are days you just avoid the studio because you have to line something up … there will be days my husband comes home from school and goes ‘What did you do today in the studio?’ ‘Cleaned the counter?’ Because you want to avoid some of that work stuff because it’s really nervewracking.”

However, she relishes the challenge.

“Painting for me is too simple now, because if you make a mistake, you just paint over it … then you fix it all up and it’s really, really easy,” she said. “But with printmaking, there’s this whole pressure.”

There are also other challenges with printmaking compared to other art forms. Once, she transported a big piece of wood over the border to use a large press in Boston. The border guard stopped her because plants can’t be transferred over the border. Martin had to reassure the border guard that it wasn’t alive and she had been carving on it for months.

Martin originally got into printmaking in high school, when she made posters for school plays with silkscreen.

“I just kind of loved it from that point on,” she said. “It was very utilitarian for me in the beginning. It was very much used as an advertising medium, but it became an artistic medium later.”

She considers it her main medium and formed the Saskatchewan Printmaking Association to educate people about it.

“I really love the challenge, the complexity, the detail, the re-planning. You have to kind of have it figured out before you start, and I like the exactness of the lines,” she said.

Sometimes her pieces can take months of planning. The idea for the bees came about when she was the artist in residence in Disneyland Paris. There were bees kept right beside her studio and she soon grew interested in them.

“I spent time learning about bees, watching bees, becoming fascinated with the whole life cycle of the bee,” she said. To research, she talked to beekeepers and watched bees for months. This isn’t a one-time thing: she’s been doing the research for a new body of work for a year.

“That tends to be what I do. I exhaust all the research I can on something I want to make and then I start to do the carvings for it,” she said. “It’s specific to me. Even when I’m painting, I do a lot of research on the subject matter before I do it because a lot of mine is conceptually-based. The bees (prints) are about the death of the bees, so I did a bunch of research about how the bees are dying, and that kind of thing. I tend to not just do stuff to match the couch. If I did stuff to match the couch, I would have to have research.”

Repetition is in the Humboldt Gallery until June 20.