REVIEW: Gregg Blasdel and Jennifer Koch at 215 College Gallery in Burlington

Panda’s Exercise

Collaborative Prints by Gregg Blasdel and Jennifer Koch

By Janet Van Fleet

There are 14 large collaborative block prints mounted in this exhibit at 215 College Gallery, six in the front room and 8 in the gallery’s larger inner room. Happily only one of them is framed, which allows unimpeded visual access to the rest of these engaging works.

In every piece, Jennifer Koch’s organic form (tooth? skeins of yarn? siamese cocoons?), carved on a large block of Shina plywood using traditional Japanese knives and a Dremel, appears in the same spot in the lower half of a sheet of Sommerset Heavyweight paper. Gregg Blasdel’s image (gem? router drill? head?), is printed on the upper half of the sheet using 38 pieces of cut birch plywood, each individually inked and then assembled in a custom tray for printing.

In each print the color used for printing the bottom image is also used as one of the colors in the faceted figure above. The challenge (and fun) for the artists was to decide which colors to choose and how to distribute those colors. In some pieces (such as Kansas Raspberry and Emerald Buddha) they used only one or two inks, creating further variation by inking one block with undiluted color, then inking a second (and even a third) block without picking up any more ink, creating progressively lighter values of the original color. In other cases (such as Untitled #11, shown at right, and Anthropology 1 and 2) that use completely inked blocks, they cruised magazines, exhibit cards, and artwork by interesting artists to assemble a palette of from 2-6 colors.

One of the pleasures of the exhibit is comparing pieces that use similar colors but employ the two different inking systems described above, such as Banknote (shown at left) and Silver, both of which are in the black/grey/white range, or several pieces using a variety of blues. Though similar in hue, very different effects are created, ranging from crisp to cloudy and evanescent.

It’s also interesting to compare the feeling-tones created by different color combinations. In most of the prints the bottom figure is printed in a dark pigment, creating a bit of a ponderous, serious tone. But in the few that are warmer and brighter – such as Untitled #11 (above) and Cherry (below right) – the feeling created is much bouncier. Cherry, which I found to be the most top-bottom integrated piece, is printed with only one color (modulated by the inking series method), also has (for unknown reasons) more white edges around the blocks, which recapitulates the striped red/white of the lower figure.

Another pleasure is speculating about what’s going on in these pieces. For example, what does the title, Panda’s Exercise, mean? One starts thinking about all the opposites and polarities in these prints: Panda ... black and white ... organic and angular, monochrome (below) and polychrome (above), male and female ... It’s hard to avoid focusing on the penetrating aspect of the top figure and the receptive quality of the one on the bottom. But wait, maybe the bottom figure is actually ejecting (or birthing) the upper one in a puff of crystalized breath? These works are the visual equivalent of an extended musical riff, and those shifting rhythms encourage the viewer to get into the act and play a little too.

Koch and Blasdel, who married in 2006, have been making visual music together since 2004, in a series of print collaborations collectively called The Marriage of Reason. It is comforting to know that they will continue to do so: During the course of printing Panda’s Exercise, the blocks began to break down at their points and, not ready to abandon the Panda project, Gregg turned them over and prepared the reverse sides of the 38 small blocks. They made one print with the refurbished blocks (if you look closely, you will find it in the exhibit), and plan to continue using them for a new series – tentatively entitled Panda’s Backside!

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