Expanding the Boundaries of Print

ConU Print-Makers Try to Make It With 50/50 Show

Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press was a pivotal technological development in human history, but the craft behind creating print media has often struggled to find legitimacy as an art form.

This digital era, in which mass media printing is falling into decline, seems like an unlikely juncture for that legitimacy to arrive. Somehow, though, the art is witnessing resurgence across North America—including here in Montreal.

Concordia’s Student Print Association’s annual 50/50 Exhibition and Print Sale is a perfect example of the easily overlooked print media scene in the city.

Running this week at the VAV Gallery in Concordia’s VA Building, 50/50 is an affordable and accessible space for artists and enthusiasts to discover and share new and interesting work. Profits from the show directly support Concordia’s up-and-coming printmakers, as the money is split 50/50 between SPA and the contributors.

“It’s true that it’s a good way to make a bit of money out of our art, but more importantly, it’s a good way to put our art out,” said Concordia print media student and 50/50 contributor Évlyne Laurin.

While the artists use the money to line their likely light pockets, the SPA uses their share of the earnings to give back, organizing things like bringing visiting print artists to Concordia, the Print Media graduation show and working to subsidize a print exchange between Concordia and other universities.

SPA has been around since 2000, but the full history of the 50/50 show is a little more vague.

“It’s kind of hard to keep the thread of our origin story. It’s kind of mysterious,” said Will Austin, who is an executive member of the SPA.

“I know it’s been happening basically annually but in a word of mouth kind of way. I don’t feel like I have hard facts to back that up, which is kind of weird,” said Austin.

Regardless of when it all started, the 50/50 show has received positive reviews, helping locals support student artists as well as giving people the opportunity to discover something new.

“You can get art for a cheap price and that art might have much more value in the future, which is true for some people who graduate from Concordia,” Austin added.

Because print media is by nature an art form based on copying, it’s often a more affordable medium to collect.

“It’s important to have an opportunity to put your work up on a wall because it changes the way you look at it. It can be really instructive, even if it’s a bit unusual to your average gallery situation.”
—Will Austin, Student Print Association Executive Member

However, this has also been a hindrance to the acceptance of print media by art aficionados in the past, when collectors were often unwilling to shell out for a work from a series when they could get their hands on original drawings or paintings.

Even though it is serial in nature, printmakers don’t think that makes it any less of a legitimate art form.

“Even in an edition, it’s an original work. It’s not a copy—it’s a multiple,” said Laurin. In fact, many artists of different mediums are embracing multiples as a beneficial tool to create similar but ultimately unique pieces.

“I think that students are coming from painting and drawing and photography because you can do a lot with print,” said Laurin.

Whether it’s in large-scale installations or through “end touching” prints with wax, watercolor, or pencil, printmakers are working to “expand the boundaries of print,” he explained.

Some of that expansion is going in the city with artists like Dominique Pétrin, who covered the exterior walls of the Les Katacombes co-op bar downtown with screen-printed paper in October.

Boundary-expanding or not, the 50/50 show provides a rare chance for student print artists to see their work hanging on the walls of a curated gallery—an “eye-opening” experience, according to Austin.

“It’s important to have an opportunity to put your work up on a wall because it changes the way you look at it. It can be really instructive, even if it’s a bit unusual to your average gallery situation,” he said.

“It helps you raise your critical awareness of how [your work] translates to the gallery environment compared to just looking at things always in the classroom environment.”

Whether it’s to see their work on a gallery wall or for that little bit of cheddar, the 50/50 show has brought a lot of artists out of the classroom and into the art scene in the past, and with so many submissions, the show ends up being a real eclectic accumulation of art, from more formal print work to seasonal gifts prepared with Christmas in mind.

“It’s a broad representation. It’s not an MFA show or a conceptual event,” said Austin.

“There was so much work last year, it was almost too much. It was almost impossible to hang it all in the VAV.”

50/50 / Nov. 19—23 / 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. / VAV Gallery (1395 René Levesque Blvd. W.)

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