By Annette Hinkle
Last week, a group of Pierson High School art students spent three days at Stony Brook Southampton exploring the possibilities of digital printmaking. Under the guidance of Sag Harbor artist Scott Sandell, who heads the new visual arts MFA program on the campus, their teacher Peter Solow and visiting artist Casey Anderson, the students arrived on Tuesday full of ideas and imagery.
By the end of the day Thursday, they left with entirely new work — art created through a process of image layering, coloring and cropping which was printed on a variety of unique surfaces—from Japanese kozo paper to fabric. And along the way, each was transformed from a student into an artist.
This inaugural project, which was financed by the Reutershan Trust, a fund created by the late Hobie Betts for the purpose of fostering artistic programs in the Sag Harbor School District, is something Solow and Sandell hope can grow.
“The reason this works is Peter has honed these kids — they’re thinking like artists and ready to go,” notes Sandell. “It would be great if we could do this with other schools. This is amazing that it’s working.”
The idea for this workshop was born when Sandell, who has been to Solow’s classroom as a visiting artist in the past, christened the Almost Beachfront Print Studio this past summer and thought to return the favor by bringing Solow in to work with grad students at the college.
“I came for one day and made prints with Scott,” recalls Solow. “All of a sudden it occurred to me it would be a phenomenal idea if we could use the resources of the Reutershan Trust, pull the kids out of school and offer an incredible authentic and intensive experience working here with Scott, Casey and me.”
Senior Emma Buckner came to the workshop armed with photographs she had taken of herself and her sister and a distinct idea of what she wanted to do. That focus changed, however, once she started delving into the possibilities in printmaking.
“Emma came in with an idea, but what made the difference was seeing how the first print came off the press — getting a feel for the size, how you wanted to crop it and where you wanted the image to go,” notes Anderson. “That could only happen with a test print. It’s finding a path through this creative process.”
“What I like about this experience is you have your views, and when talking to Scott we collaborate together,” says Buckner. “It’s a good experience to talk to someone about their work and use their advice — or not.”
“Before, these images were portraits I really liked them, but it wasn’t really more than that,” adds Buckner. “As soon as I started collaborating, it became more than a simple portrait, it became a whole new look.”
For Sandell, that “new look” is what he’s striving for. Printmaking, he explains, is not about making large reproductions of a photograph, but rather using tools to layer and expand on an idea — and in the end, build an entirely original piece of art.
“With this technology it’s easy to replicate any image,” he says. “But what’s important in original printmaking is to make an ‘original print’ — one that only exists in that medium and that state — and that’s what were trying to do.”
The results of the workshop were as varied as the personalities of the Pierson students themselves and included prints that were drawn and painted on after the fact, prints that became three-dimensional artists books, and even one example of wearable art. Senior Ellison Ulrich printed her image on fabric which she turned into a skirt and will wear at a reception for the student’s work this Saturday.
“What’s exciting is we don’t know where it’s going to go,” says Sandell. “The logo image for the Almost Beachfront Studio is a rower on the Arno River in Florence. He’s rowing hard, but he’s going backwards — he can’t see where it’s going to take him.”
And for Solow, delving into the unknown is exactly the point.
“Scott is so expansive in his idea of what art is and what it can be,” says Solow. “What’s cool is his vision of what this should be is not an academic thing, but more expansive — bringing in incredible people to work in a variety of ways.”
“The kids and I had a conversation,” said Solow as things were winding down on Thursday. “ I asked them what the similarities and differences were in coming here and making art and making art at the school?”
“One thing they said was, of course, time,” says Solow. “The second thing is this incredible facility.”
But for Solow, the most valuable part of the experience was Sandell himself.
“I teach advance photography and use Photoshop, but put him in front of a printmaking image and he’ll tweak it this way and that,” says Solow. “He’s using Photoshop in a way that’s sophisticated and talking to kids about things they would never have thought of themselves.”
“These kids are not the audience, but the future architects and builders of art. Go back to Mrs. Sage’s whole idea of benefitting the world and making it a better place,” says Solow, referring to the Sag Harbor benefactress who built Pierson High School more than 100 years ago. “Kids won’t do it by reading a book or writing about art. They’re capable of making magic.”
Work from the Young Artists Workshop in Printmaking will be on view in an exhibit at the Avram Gallery at Stony Brook Southampton this Saturday, December 9 from 5:30 to 7 p.m. That same evening at 7 p.m., the Avram Theater, right next door, hosts the fourth annual High School Playwrights Festival with six short plays written and performed by local students (including Pierson). The evening is the culminating event of the 2012 Young American Writers Project (YAWP) High School Playwriting Program helmed by Emma Walton Hamilton and Will Chandler. The Avram Theater and the gallery are both in the Fine Arts Building on the campus of Stony Brook Southampton, 239 Old Montauk Highway, Southampton. Tickets for the performance are free. For reservations email email@example.com.