FINE PRINT: Virgil Marti at Moore

Please note: This article is published as an archive copy from Philadelphia City Paper. My City Paper is not affiliated with Philadelphia City Paper. Philadelphia City Paper was an alternative weekly newspaper in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The last edition was published on October 8, 2015.
Amanda Mott, Courtesy Elizabeth Dee Gallery
VIP Room, 2010, by Virgil Marti, screen print on paper-backed Mylar, wood, faux fur,
trim and mirror ball, installation view, Moore College of Art & Design

Bringing you more Philagrafika 2010 coverage twice a week, at least.

On view at Moore College of Art & Design through April 11 (2000 Ben Franklin Parkway, 215-965-4027, thegalleriesatmoore.org), Virgil Marti's contribution to Philagrafika 2010's core exhibit, "The Graphic Unconscious," is all about perception. From a distance, the floor-to-ceiling display looks like flat floral wallpaper; but upon closer inspection, deeper, creepier meaning reveals itself.

The interview below, conducted in October by Millersville University fine arts student Lauren Nye under the tutelage of Millersville art history prof/Philagrafika steering committee member Christine Filippone, explores Marti's interest in the three-dimensionality of printmaking.

Courtesy Virgil Marti/Elizabeth Dee Gallery
Study for Untitled Wallpaper, 2010,
digital rendering for screenprint on
silver Mylar wallpaper

Lauren Nye: How do you see your work fitting into the Philagrafika theme "The Graphic Unconscious"?
Virgil Marti:
I take the theme to mean that prints are so ubiquitous, we encounter them every day without really thinking about it. On that level, it is an interest of mine, because I want my work to look like something I didn't make, something you could just come across every day. One of the things that really attracts me to printmaking is the idea of being able to reproduce something so if it gets lost or destroyed you can remake it. With a piece like my Beer Can Library wallpaper, I was consciously thinking that I have this big collection of beer cans that some day I will have to store. If I made an image of them it would be a way to condense the collection and make it smaller. Then I could give prints away to people, but I would still have it for myself. It's a way to be able to let go of things but still be able to hold on to them at the same time, which I like.

LN: Do you think that print "lies at the heart of contemporary art"?
VM:
I think it's very true in many cases. Most collectors, when they begin collecting art, collect prints. I think that both printmaking and photography are things that contemporary artists utilize without even thinking of themselves as "printmakers" or "photographers" — it's just a process they use.

LN: I think that a lot of people have come to printmaking in that way, by using a mixed-media approach. Do you think of yourself as a printmaker?
VM:
I didn't set out to be a printmaker, and I'm kind of uncomfortable being called a printmaker. I don't think I'm really a printmaker in the way that somebody who has gone through a printmaking program, or apprenticed at Tamarind, is. I'm not that kind of printmaker. I think more like a painter, but I wouldn't say I'm a painter because I'm not using paint. I guess I'm a sculptor because I make objects and three-dimensional things, but I'm also not comfortable with that because I was trained as a painter. I am more comfortable using whatever material and tool makes sense for the piece. Though I have done a lot of printing for other artists, and in that way I do think of myself as a screen-printer. In my work in general, I wouldn't say I'm a printmaker.

LN: The authority of the print is explored in the exhibits. Have you sought to validate the imagery in your prints and wallpapers by surrounding your viewers with it?
VM:
For Philagrafika I have a long glass wall to work with, so the viewer will not be fully surrounded. Initially my interest in wallpaper really related to thinking of it like painting. I thought of wallpaper as a material like the can of paint that you can cover the surface with from start to finish. The architecture of the building provides the plan for the image. ... A lot of what I do comes out of Warhol — he is the first person I think of as an artist making wallpaper. ... In the case of the beer cans I was interested in elevating a lowly thing by turning it into a pastiche of a typical trompe l'oeil wallpaper library. The fact that the print can go on and on goes along with that idea, but it's not a primary concern of mine.

LN: The idea of accessibility comes up in your work, especially through the wallpaper pieces. Do you think this speaks to the accessibility of printmaking in general?
VM:
I like that wallpaper is something that everyone has contact with. Whether or not they have it in their house, it's something they have experience with. What I like about screen-printing is that it is very simple and you don't need a lot of fancy equipment. It's the kind of thing you can do on your own outside of school, unlike a process like lithography or etching that require a press. I like to, theoretically, be able to make lots and lots of the wallpaper. I say theoretically because in reality it's complicated to produce, so it's not as affordable as, say, going to Home Depot and buying a printed wallpaper there instead. I also liked the idea of making something that looked like I didn't necessarily make it, that looked like something I could have just found at a store. Using the printing process to remove my hand and make it look kind of mass-produced is interesting to me, too.

LN: Is removing your hand something that is a concern to you in all of your work, or just in the wallpaper?
VM:
I think it is something that I was moving toward when I was in graduate school. I was a painter during grad school and toward the end of that, when I was starting to finish my M.F.A., I was making things that I wasn't touching very much. I was stretching up fabrics that I had just bought and not painting on them at all. I went from making work that was really expressionist and gestural in undergrad, and beginning to be embarrassed by that, to making work in which the expression is more disguised or invented and not so obvious. I wanted it to look like I had possibly found it, and I think that is in all of my work.

LN: In some of your more recent work you have been using mold making to replicate three-dimensional objects, such as bones. Do you think mold making and printmaking are similar in some ways?
VM:
I do, I think that using the molds becomes like a three-dimensional printmaking process. The repetition is very similar.

LN: When reading about, and hearing you talk about your work, issues of taste come up and also snobbery when it comes to judgments of taste. Do you think there is such a thing as "good" and "bad" taste aesthetically?
VM: I don't think it can be that simple in terms of visual aesthetic. There are things that I like and prefer and others that I don't really like. I'm not comfortable thinking that if I don't really like things they are in bad taste. There are lots of other factors, too, like if a person grew up with something and developed an emotional attachment to it. Also, mainstream culture determines whether things are good taste and bad taste, but that changes too. At a certain time something is OK, but a few years later you think that it's awful.

LN: Is that why you chose to work with imagery that you were surrounded with and comfortable with when you were younger, like wallpapers and the beer can collection?
VM:
I decided to work with things that I didn't really like, things I thought were kind of bad taste, or taste that was going out of fashion, and things that, when I was a kid, I may have thought were cool. It was kind of an attempt to re-discover that sense of wonder and beauty. I wanted to recapture that. I was also interested in making something that, from the very beginning, was a little bit out of fashion. You can make work that looks very of the moment and then in a year or two it looks dated. It was interesting to try to work with things that were already sort of dated looking so that I could obviate that conversation so that the other aspect of it could be talked about. I didn't have to worry about it looking dated because it already looked dated.

LN: Your work in the past has paid particular attention to things that may have been overlooked as a part of everyday life (black light posters, beer can collections, etc.). Do you want people to ask themselves why they overlook them and why they have become outdated?
VM:
If people have a reaction that the images are tacky or ugly, I would like them to think about why they are making that judgment and what their relationship is to it. Does it have to do with their anxieties about their social status? If they are from a lower-class background, it could be things that remind them of their childhood and they feel like they have moved away from it. What is it about the work that causes that reaction?

LN: Your earlier works are considered louder in tone. The more recent works, in comparison, are quieter. Was this a purposeful direction?
VM:
When I was younger and making work I felt like I needed to get people's attention so it made sense to make louder art. The more recent work is subtler as a symptom of having been working for a while and being able to control my voice better. I've also, a lot of times, made something very bright and hot and then the next piece was quieter, whiter, and colder. I've always worked between those two extremes. The white-on-white work was something that was unexpected of me, and I have desired to do things that people would not expect of me.

LN: What are the pieces going to be like that you are showing at Moore College for Philagrafika?
VM: It's going to be a print of the bone flower pieces on a silver ground that is semi-reflective. I haven't done much mixing of the sculptural bones and the photographic prints in the past. It's the first time that I'm turning the three-dimensional object back into the flat image.

Lauren Nye is a student at Millersville University where she is seeking her bachelor's degree in fine arts with a concentration in sculpture. She received a Student Research Grant in 2009 to help install the exhibition "Translating Lost," in Milan, Italy, and at the Venice Biennale. She will open her first solo show at Millersville's Swift Gallery in April.

Lauren completed her interview with Virgil Marti under the guidance of Christine Filippone, formerly executive director of The Print Center in Philadelphia and steering committee member of Philagrafika. Christine is currently assistant professor of Art History at Millersville University.

RELATED: Sue Coe at the Print Center, The Island

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