MM&S: Besides your position as the Workshop Manager at the EFA Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in NYC you have been involved with printmaking workshops at MOMA and a variety of other programs. Can you bring us up to date on all this excitement?
Justin: Sure! Yes, It has all been very exciting. The workshops at the MoMA, Studio Museum of Harlem, and Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture have been the most recent classes I have conducted as Workshop Manager of EFA RBPMW.
At MoMA, with the help of print shop artists and MoMA educators, we’ve conducted a series of 16 Monotype workshops, in conjunction with the “Degas: A Strange New Beauty” exhibition. In each class, 18-20 museum goers had the opportunity to learn the monotype process, similar to the way Degas made his, but with non-toxic materials and water soluble inks. The classes were about an hour and a half, and participants were able to make up to 3 monotypes. We used a small, mobile Conrad etching press that we brought over from RBPMW.
Using the MoMA workshops as a model, I’ve been able to provide similar iterations of these classes to new students. Most recently I’ve taught monotype to the Schomburg Center Teen Curators as well as pronto plate lithography to 40 participants as part of the “Circa 1970” exhibition at the Studio Museum.
Each workshop has been a great learning experience for myself and all of the parties involved. It’s been really amazing to see how much can be accomplished in a quick, hands on workshop. It’s also been great exposure for RBPMW and the prints that have come from participants have really been impressive.
MM&S: Now that there are so many mediums used to print and a variety of mechanics to complete them, tell us about your favorite way to print.
Justin: I really love all printmaking mediums, but my favorite is woodcut. Ever since I studied with Antonio Frasconi at SUNY Purchase in 2003, I have loved creating woodblocks and prints utilizing the wood grain. Most recently I have been carving large, 4ft x 8ft plywood blocks and using the grain as inspiration. I start with drawing on a toned block to enhance or downplay sections of woodgrain and achieve dimension, while maintaining the grain’s integrity. I then utilize hand gauges and a die grinder to carve the blocks. Once finished, the blocks are printed with lithographic inks through a press or with a steamroller. I find the whole process of carving and printing peaceful and meditative; it is one of the mediums I crave the most.
MM&S: Tell us about your process and thoughts on monoprints and monotypes.
Justin: My monotype process mostly begins with the idea first, and then gathering references or subjects to work from. I paint on plexiglass and prop it up vertically so the light can come through the back; this gives me a more accurate translation to what the print will look like. Most of my monotypes use lithographic ink diluted with paint thinner to achieve tones and litho varnish to ensure the ink doesn’t dry on the plate. Each monotype is completed in roughly a 5 – 9 hour session.
I think monotypes are an under-appreciated medium, and wrongfully viewed as less than a painting or watercolor. However, recently, the medium has been getting more attention in museum shows like the Degas at MoMa, which is fantastic.
MM&S: How has your art grown and what influences helped to move your art to this point in your career?
Justin: My biggest influences have been working as an assistant to Malcolm Morley and alongside all the artists and printers at RBPMW. Both have given me an expansive perception of the art world and reasons to create art.
Malcolm has been a great inspiration, he has truly made his mark on art history and painting on his own terms. He has taught me so much about what it means to be an artist and to never compromise my ideas for anything or anyone. Malcolm and his studio manager Peter Krashes taught me the most valuable lesson, that I can create anything I want with patience and perseverance.
At EFA RBPMW the generosity of shared knowledge and affordable studio space, inspired by Robert Blackburn’s vision, has allowed me to really hone my skills as a printmaker. Also, because of the work exchange program, I have had a studio to work in ever since my first year out of college.
MM&S: As the workshop manager, what kinds of problems do you see emerging printmakers having to deal with in the studio?
Justin: The hardest thing for emerging printmakers is balancing making a living and finding the time to create art in New York City. With the prices for everything continually rising as they have been, its becoming harder and harder to find that balance. You either have to work full time and not have enough time for your work, or have time to make artwork and worry about having enough money to get by. It is for this reason, places like EFA RBPMW are extremely important; providing creative facilities and supplies for little to no cost.
MM&S: What are you working on for you in your studio right now?
Justin: I’ve just finished a large painting that I worked on for 3 years on and off, so now the large woodblocks have become my focus again. For the past 2 years I’ve helped run the steamroller printing at the Braddock Park Arts Festival in New Jersey run by Guttenberg Arts. So far, I’ve carved two 4 ft x 8ft woodblocks and printed them with the steam roller in the park. At the moment I’m playing with sewing together the prints for the blocks to make even bigger prints and tapestries. Now that I have hung them all together, I’m realizing that I need to carve more blocks.
MM&S: Any other artists that you would like to recommend for others to check out as well? Please include links where possible
Justin: Sure, for monotype I would say Neil Berger. For other mediums: Chakaia Booker, Peter Krashes, Rie Hasegawa, Jessie Brugger, Amir Hariri, Cullen Washington
MM&S: Wearing so many hats in the print studio gives you the opportunity to work with print artist of many calibers. Given this, where do you see the print field going in the next 5 to 10 years?
Justin: I know that printmakers will continue to adapt new technologies to create prints with. Printers are only beginning to explore laser cutters and digital routers to create prints and plates, so I’m sure we will see more of that. Now with 3D printers, those technically make prints too, but I have yet to see anyone create a matrix from a 3D printer. It will be interesting to see if printmakers will adapt this technology to make artwork.
Thank you for an insightful interview.
Additional work and contact at :
Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop
323 W 39th St. 2nd Floor
NYC, NY 10018