In the Studio
Text by Lauren Hessemer
Photos by Anna Watts for Pace Prints
Additional text and photos by Austin Kennedy
Ahead of her upcoming solo exhibition City Dip at Pace Prints, Blair Saxon-Hill worked in three extended residencies in the Pace Editions print shop and the Pace Paper studio from February to August of 2022. Beginning with exploration and familiarization with the techniques and expertise offered in the shops, Saxon-Hill adapted both traditional and unconventional printmaking processes to suit her practice and her style.
“I'm a material-driven artist. I select material first and then create work from that material. I am not at first making a figure, I'm first finding something that inspires the figure.”
For the last six years at the Pace Prints’ studio, Justin Israels has perfected a magnetic sheeting printing technology which affords collage-based artists the flexibility to cut printing plates by hand. As a material-driven artist, Saxon-Hill chose to incorporate fabrics into the printing process, further expanding the possibilities of the printing technology. To produce a monoprint, a magnetic plate is first cut by the artist into a puzzle of the image. She then assigned sections for fabric textures to be transferred by the press onto the magnet pieces, utilizing a technique known as pressure printing.
The resulting unique print is a myriad of connecting textures and patterns employing a similar patchwork sensibility to that of the artist’s fabric and found object collage works. In the final prints, the fabric feels embedded in the image, acting in contrast to the delicate tones created by rainbow roll color gradations. The resulting monoprints maximize the potential of surface texture in print and further reward the viewer when the works are viewed up close.
“I wanted to make something that [even] printers have a hard time understanding.”
In addition to the monoprints, the printers produced large scale monoprinted papers with surface textures and colors predetermined by the artist for her collages. Saxon-Hill describes her collage process as “drawing or thinking with scissors.” In the large-scale collage titled Studio View, Saxon-Hill depicts the print studio’s window with shelves full of potted plants that have been gifted to the printers over the years by artists-in-residence. Saxon-Hill’s meticulous focus on pattern is ever present with each individual element carrying equal weight in the collage’s composition. The plants are arranged with the same playful whimsy as the skyscrapers they supersede. The ethic of reciprocity and care that is shared between the artist and her collaborators in the studio is personified in these sited plants.
“I believe strongly in the layering of things. I think there's a kind of depth and mystery that is achieved in print that comes from the actual layering of ink on ink”
During the artist’s time at the Pace Prints’ paper studio under the direction of Akemi Martin, Saxon-Hill expanded upon a “wet on wet” transfer technique. In The Psychic, a portrait inspired by a visit to a New York fortune teller, a colorful handmade paper work was created by fusing pigmented wet pulp to wet pulp and collaging in dry ancient fibers, such as kozo (mulberry) and amate (bark) to the wet pulp. Fabrics were once again utilized, this time as a template, to protect portions of wet pulp. The negative spaces of the fabrics were then blown out with water pressure, leaving a lace-like pulp residue of the positive space of the fabric pattern. The overall production process of this pulp collage, which becomes an enormously complex piece of handmade paper when dry, was a feat. The work is massive for a handmade sheet of paper, at 60 by 40 inches, and the largest the studio had made to date.
Coming from her practice of creating with found materials, Saxon-Hill found that she needed to ground her color palette in a set of references. Drawing from the history of Pace Prints' studios, she sourced from a book of swatches which was once used by Claes Oldenburg, as well as a manual of computer-generated colors, which gave her the earthy and subdued hues that reflect her Oregon background as well as her state of mind while creating the works.
“Being from the northwest, I really wanted to have a much more muted palette. And I would constantly say, ‘I want the color to be dirtier.’ I like a quality of color that is maybe of the forties or something like that. Like there's a lead in that blue, you know.
You can see the work in the beginning of my residency was very warm and sunny and bright, even though we are in the middle of a pandemic during a war, but now I feel that the work has really found its sensibility and landed on a palette that is more emotive and of our time.”
Throughout her time at Pace Prints, Saxon-Hill brought conceptual challenges and the tools of her practice to the printers, while concurrently deepening her knowledge of printmaking and embracing the unfamiliar in the process. Much as she harnessed and thrived on the energy of New York City, the complexity and manifold possibilities of printmaking became a guiding force in the work that she created, and her collaboration with the studio's printers added a welcome second voice to her singular and highly personal vision.
“There is this mystery that happens, this magical process that I can only half control. These works look like fabric collages, but they're actually prints, and because there's that slippage in your mind when you look at something like, ‘well, what is it?’ And that is I think an indicator of the success of the work."