2015-06-04 / About Town

Printmaker’s work on display

By Ryan Gibbs


A new exhibit of work by Peter Marcus at the Newport Art Museum is titled “The New American Family.” The prints depict his interracial family. 
Photo by Carla Aveledo A new exhibit of work by Peter Marcus at the Newport Art Museum is titled “The New American Family.” The prints depict his interracial family. Photo by Carla Aveledo An award-winning printmaker from Jamestown will explore the changing acceptance of interracial families through a series of prints at the Newport Art Museum this summer. For “The New American Family” show, artist Peter Marcus says the concept came from his own mixed family.

According to Marcus, his brother in-law married a woman from the Ivory Coast in the 1970s, when interracial marriages were rare. Since then, he’s been influenced by the change in acceptance of mixed families. The series explores his own family’s make-up through close-up photographs of their faces that have been slightly manipulated using Marcus’ intaglio technique.

The work in Marcus’ show include photographs he took of his immediate family, including his sons, grandchildren and in-laws. He drew and painted on the paper before he printed the photographs, which makes each unique. Normally, Marcus said, artists will print the photograph and then paint over it. However, with his process, the paint is more integrated with the full work.

Marcus uses a process called collagraphy. He builds his own intaglio presses in order to create his large-scale works. His press will print works up to 5 feet long by 10 feet wide.

He explained that intaglio printing is where the design is etched in ink into the piece from lower surfaces.

“It takes a big press and it takes a lot of pressure,” he said. “I ink the whole plate and wipe the surface. All the ink comes out of the surface and leaves it in the cracks and depressions in the middle. When I put it under pressure, under damp paper and felts, the ink is pulled out of the cracks and that’s how I make my marks.”

Marcus created his whole series of intaglio marks, which are unique to his process and work.

“I think artists need to invent both an image and a process to make their image, and I’m hopefully doing both of those things,” he said.

Curator Nancy Grinnell said the museum’s theme this year is community, and they are honoring Jamestown with the exhibition series. The museum and town has had a long standing history, including its first board president, who was a Jamestown resident.

The idea for the showcase came after Marcus won best in show at the 2013 Newport Annual, Grinnell said. Sculptor Janet Prip was already scheduled for a show, and her husband, photographer Roger Birn, became involved. Grinnell had already talked to glassmakers Jennifer and David Clancy about a show for next year, but the Clancys rescheduled when they found out about the Jamestown theme that was being developed.

Marcus said the local exhibits do not necessarily connect to one another, but reflect the varied art styles in town.

“We’re all individual artists pursuing our own vision and our own processes,” he said. “I think that’s great. I know their work and I admire it, and I try to keep my work reflective of my individual style.”

Marcus decided on “The New American Family” after being offered the solo show following his best in show. The works on display were created specifically for the show, he said.

Marcus is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y., and studied at the Parson School of Design before graduating from New York University in 1962 with a bachelor’s degree in industrial design. He received his master’s in printmaking from Brooklyn College in 1964, and then began studying printmaking at the Scuola del Libro in Urbino, Italy.

Marcus originally studied sculpture, but did not see “eye-to-eye” with his professor and switched to printmaking. He chose the new media because his friends were involved with it. According to Marcus, the switch was the “best thing I’ve ever done.”

“I try to make art rather than prints. Most printmakers want to make a beautiful print, which is fabulous, but I still want to make it art and compete visually with other media. I want to be able to do the scale, I want the visual impact, I want to create something that other people can’t create and have not seen before.”

Following college, Marcus taught printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Stout before joining the faculty of Washington University in St. Louis, where he taught painting and printmaking from 1967 to 1999. He moved to Jamestown full time in 2009, but spent a considerable amount of time in town for nearly a decade before that.

Before moving to Jamestown, Marcus had primarily done architectural work and prints of buildings, but has expanded to figurative works such as the “New American Family” series. There is one architectural work in the show unconnected to the series: a print of the Newport Art Museum itself in honor of its 100th anniversary.

Marcus hopes that visitors enjoy his show and understand the theme: the changing family dynamic in the United States.

The four Jamestown art exhibitions will run at the museum through Aug. 11. Other events involving the artists include a discussion on Tuesday, June 9, and a studio tour on Sunday, June 14.

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