The Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory is workshop and gallery for practitioners of print art and artisanal paper production, but also prides itself as teaching space for those same arts. Their current exhibition both showcases the work of a distinguished creator and educator in woodcut printing, Andrij Maday.
Originally from Philadelphia, Maday is currently an instructor in color theory and art fundamentals at Virginia Marti College of Art and Design in Lakewood. His teaching spills over into this most recent solo exhibit, which is interspersed with several short descriptions of his creative process, and examples the materials generated during it.
Specifically, attendees receive a privileged look at the ink-stained boards Maday used to print. Many of these have a Through the Looking Glass queerness to them—especially those featuring the plump Cheshire Cat stand-in tabby, Jordan. The printing process requires an artist to carve the desired image onto their printer in mirror-image reverse, so that when pressed to paper it appears the right-way around. When displayed side-by-side, both the print and the board which made it look like each other's photographic negative.
The print "Jordan: Night Owl" is an unassuming image of the cat lounged in front of a window, outside of which stretches a starless twilight in which hangs a clouded moon. The board's existence precedes the print's, it looks like a minimalist reinterpretation of the final picture. Most of its pictorial content is negative space. No drawn lines outline the cat's body, but its shape is defined by tiny ridges suspended in the night sky making up its fur.
Jordan the cat reappears in several images, and other subjects for depiction include garden scenes, vegetables, Pysanka (Ukrainian Easter eggs), and majestic zoo animals. The scenes are undeniably idyllic, but not kitsch. As with Renior or Matisse, soft domestic or pastoral material is elevated by experiments in formal or technical presentation.
"Asparagus on Morgan" is a series of 19 pictures of a bundle of vegetable stalks, printed on a variety of papers manufactured in the Conservatory. The papers are made with cotton, flax, hemp, and kozo, and are various hues of white, red, blue, and gray. Displayed together in two rows of nine, the installation invokes Andy Warhol's series of replicated Marilyns and Elvises.
In another kitty picture, "Jordan: Mouse Impression," the cat lies with all four legs tucked beneath itself, unseen but ready to spring. It looks up, at or past the audience, but the viewer's eyes are on the cat's back, a scramble of strikes like pre-digital television static. Though the marks on the feline's back are chaos and its tail flicks rightward, it is nonetheless as close to symmetrical as any mammal could be. Its environment is also strikingly symmetric; it is in the center of a cone of light, and a repeating geometric pattern of white and black triangles run across the top of the image.
The Pysanka are always displayed in pairs, and always printed in black and white. In life, they would be vibrating with color. Maday's prints, shorn of their subjects' most distinctive feature of colorfulness, work as stripped-down representations of the eggs which force viewers to appreciate careful design of their patterns. They could also be appreciated as abstracts, as wavy and geometric shapes inside ovals.
In all his work, Maday's drawings are almost photorealistic in their trueness to the surfaces of images. This is impressive in pencil, but absolutely astonishing when done with a chisel. If one walks away with no greater insight into printmaking, they can at least be impressed by this skill.
Maday's exhibit will run through June 4 at 1754 E. 47th Street, Cleveland. For more information, call 216-361-9255 or go to morganconservatory.org.