How much earnest politics does it take to ruin a good print?

Like a veil of squeegee-pulled ink, a thick wash of politics has soaked deep into this year’s Jerome Emerging Printmakers Exhibition. And most of it (at least on press-release preview) sounds painfully uninteresting.

For example, have you noticed how the media news cycle has become a cacophony of circuit-frying information overload? You have? Then you may not have much to learn from John McFadden’s abstracted landscape screen prints, whose patchwork riots of appropriated imagery aim to overwhelm and alarm, reflecting “the accelerated pace and disillusionment rendered by contemporary media outlets.” They achieve their goal. And McFadden deserves credit for their labor-intensive layering. But representing the splintered anarchy of the media landscape with a shard-like mess of a print…well, that’s about as subtle as the programming on Fox News.

A similar didactic undermines the otherwise lovely relief prints of Graham Judd. We’re told the work—faux-iconic, black-and-white narratives haunted by grotesque-faced characters—examines “the moral conflicts of contemporary American religious culture through symbolic figurative landscapes.” The gist is that he’s riffing on the classical canon of Western religious woodcuts. As an artistic aim, it’s preachy; a little humorless. But Judd’s prints—so ominous, so serious—might just shoulder the weight of such an earnest statement.  

The freshest and most exciting ideas here come from young Gwen Comings. Comings, who graduated from MCAD in 2009, experiments cleverly in leather-and-lace opposition. Her weapon of choice is the blind relief embossing—an old scrapbooking trick in which shapes are imprinted into a thick craft paper. As a technique it’s airy and fay, producing sublet and ghostlike imagery. 

But her subject matter is brutish: hyper-aggressive sports, like football and ultimate fighting. Comings’s embossings, which on first approach look like delicate wallpaper designs, actually depict warriors at the point of violent failure. A spine-cracking goal-line stand. A tap-out. It’s a clever concept paired with a delicate, unusual technique, and we’re excited to see it.

Of course, concept isn’t everything. And printmaking, more than most media, makes a religion of process. These Jerome fellows are pros. They deserve all the accolades (and the nine months’ access to the Highpoint Center for Printmaking’s facilities).

So you should go see the show.

You just might not want to think too hard about it.

Jerome Emerging Printmakers Exhibition
Opening reception: Friday, May 25
6:30-9 p.m.
Highpoint Center for Printmaking, 912 W. Lake St., Mpls.