Art: Pressed in time

KMAC exhibit examines the printing press and how its use changed the world

Louisville has an unintentional art twofer going on. In the April 30 issue of LEO Weekly, April Corbin reviewed “Print & Process” at The Green Building Gallery. In it, she mentions “PRESS: Artist & Machine” at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft and the creative connection between the two exhibitions.

While both deal with prints, “PRESS” focuses more on the printing press (the machine of the title), how its use changed the world, and how artists have creatively “pressed” over the centuries. The show features work that is both historical and contemporary, from book printing to printmaking, and includes a vintage letterpress machine.

Western civilization owes a lot to Johannes Gutenberg, the man credited with the invention of the movable type, hand-operated printing press in 15th-century Germany. The resulting mass production of the printed word changed how information was assimilated. It was the World Wide Web of its day.

One of the exhibitors, Hound Dog Press, is a local company that seems to have forgotten we live in the digital age. Owners Nick Baute and Robert Ronk continue to use 19th century hand-operated printing presses. Their letterpress machines are not too far removed from those used by English artist/writer William Morris during the Arts and Crafts movement of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

One of the goals of the movement was to bring back the quality of handmade objects lost during the Industrial Revolution. While today there’s coexistence among art that’s handmade, mass-produced or digital, factory-produced items were heralded during Morris’ day.

The exhibition features books printed by Morris’ company Kelmscott Press, including the 1892 “The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems.” To create an artistic handmade product, the binding and letter font were as important to Morris as the meaning of the words.

Fast-forward to the 21st century, when artists can pick and choose from a variety of historical techniques or stir the pot to make something new. A case in point is Leslie Lyons and J.B. Wilson’s “Bank” of 2013. A work from their “Unswept Floors” series, “Bank” is a trompe l’oeil, color-dyed wonderland. It’s sure to make you wish for large hands and deep pockets when viewing the 64 tiles covered in images of $100 and $100,000 bills. The artists explain they are commenting “on contemporary culture and drawing comparisons between the values of the United States and excesses of the fallen Roman Empire.”

Virginia Poundstone’s 2013 “Gold Rush” is made of pressed botanicals on wood. Dried flowers, perforated vinyl and glass are just a few of her preferred media. These are not your typical printmaking materials, which makes her 2013 “Memento Mori” printed bouquet series a jumping-off point for rethinking just what is the definition of a print.

There’s an abundance of pressed metal platters in vintage stores and Goodwills since their heyday of use has passed. Jaydan Moore is now their rescuer, imagining “how their previous owners may have affected these objects,” he explains. “Removed from their original context, the stories and meanings behind these objects are mysterious and unknown … Once a metal object has run its course, it can be scrapped, melted and cast, ready to be made into a new object. I believe that within the new object still lives the past — that nothing is lost, only given a new history.”

His 2012 “Platter #4” combines plates to create one long row of connected yet mismatched designs. But it’s his gorgeous and intricate etchings that bring back the glamour of those days when a metal serving platter was de rigueur. Moore will be at KMAC to discuss his art on Saturday, May 31, at 2 p.m.