Sex, drugs and silk screens

The iconic images of the Campbell’s soup can and Marilyn Monroe brought to you by Andy Warhol could only be done by the technique of silk screen printing. But printmaking as a celebrated art form was not limited to Warhol’s mass-produced images. Artists around the world experimented with this medium, including many in Winnipeg. Established by Bill Lobchuk in 1968, The Grand Western Canadian Print Shop became a well-recognized center for high quality artistic prints. Living in a cultural environment saturated with sex, drugs and social change, the artists working at the Print Shop in the late 1960s and ’70s produced outstanding work.
Thanks to a recent donation by Lobchuk, 95 of these prints are now in the permanent collection of Gallery One One One at the University of Manitoba, with a sample currently displayed as part of the exhibit “The Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop: The Bill Lobchuk Donation.” This exhibit, curated by Roger Epp, celebrates the diverse artists working at The Shop and their artistic styles.

One psychedelic-inspired print, The Guitar Player, made in 1976 by Larry Kissick is a mixture of avocado, deep turquoise, white and peach. This artistic expression of altered consciousness shows a man playing a guitar, which happens to be formed out of a woman. Her body is cut off at the waist, mimicking the shape of the instrument, and strings run up her body. Her hair is intertwined with his, shaded by precise black dots as the two lie in this peculiar embrace.
Sex-saturated content doesn’t stop there. Artist Kelly Clark’s Double Exposure, created in 1970 uses the same wonderful avocado green complimented by vivid oranges and blues. The title refers to the mirror images of a woman sticking her tongue out. In the center of the print there is a large V shape, this unidentifiable form could mean a number of things — splayed legs? Her vagina? V for “victory?” The peace symbol?

Another interesting print is by Gordon Lebredt and features a pixilated monochromatic image of a racing team. The three men, clad in greasers-type clothing with long hair, are posing with their motorcycles. Titled Tracks (Defacement) the work is literally defaced with a large black squiggle and a horizontal block of peach paint. According to the work’s statement, this line mimics the “printmaking convention whereby the rejects of a newly struck or pulled edition are crossed out-thus rendering them unfit for anything other than perhaps serving as test sheets for some future effort or enterprise.”

The majority of the collection on display is done in a Pop Art style, but there are also some important traditionally spired pieces by First Nations artists who worked at the Grand Western Canadian Screen Shop. For example, there are three large colorful and aesthetic prints by Jackson Beardy, Alex Janvier and Daphne Odjig.

“The screen shop in Winnipeg was special in the sense that it really became known for the people that worked there and the quality,” explained curator Roger Epp, in an interview with the Manitoban. “Historians have written that it played a real part in the social history of Canadian art and printmaking. There were a lot of artists who came to print at this shop from across Canada.”
Some of these artists included Carl Ray, Pierre Ayot, General Idea, Joe Fafard, Winston Leathers and Tony Tascona.

Lobchuk established the Grand Western Canadian Print Shop in 1968 after he studied at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art from 1952-66. “He later established the school’s first silkscreen printing department in the early 1970’s,” said Epp. “The works in this donation actually came in the 1980s, but it came just as a loan [ . . . ] he has now donated them to us for our permanent collection. They were instrumental in developing the School of Art’s printmaking curriculum and for studying the silkscreen printing process”.

This exhibit is the first of three in the works for 2010 to commemorate private donors to Gallery One One One. Private donations are “incredibly important because we have a very small endowment to take care of the collection for acquisitions, but it’s nowhere near large enough to purchase the works that we would like,” explained Epp. “It’s from donations like private collections that the gallery’s collection has really developed over the years [ . . . ] we really rely on them and appreciate their contribution, so this series was an attempt to recognize this contribution.”