I think, at this point of 2019, it’s fair to say that "Inked" will be the weirdest collaboration you will have seen all year. It’s an exhibition that at once makes sense and also doesn’t at all.
Illustrator, printmaker and SCAD professor Curtis Bartone had been slated for the Hen House exhibition for a while. He was originally paired with illustrator Elmer Ramos, but when Ramos had to drop out of the show, he was set to share the bill with someone else.
“I was just hoping it was someone good,” laughs Bartone.
Fortunately, Hen House facilitators Kevin Clancy and Chris Fisher had just the right artist in mind: illustrator Ugis Berzins.
Ironically, Berzins had been a student of Bartone’s back in the day, but that’s about as far as the connection goes on first look. Bartone’s etchings are gloomy and almost heavy; Berzins’ drawings are light and fun.
But, wander around the gallery for a bit and it becomes clear that both artists are doing something really cool and subversive with the work they’re presenting.
“Kevin made kind of a weird comment,” muses Bartone. “He said my prints were more about drawing than my drawings are.”
Indeed, Bartone’s etchings don’t look much like etchings at all. They have a more loose and gestural style; some, as Berzins points out, even look like charcoal drawings.
Then, in Berzins’ cartoon-style illustrations, the tight linework almost resembles engravings.
It’s that interplay between media that make the work fit together, if not at first glance. Stylistically, the work is disparate; thematically, it’s the same. And, of course, they both love to draw.
Bartone’s selection of work for “Inked” spans his long career, including from a residency he completed this past summer. His most recent piece includes painting, something he hadn’t done for a while.
“I went back to painting and was super tight,” he shares. “Most of the prints in this show are etchings and some lithographs—that’s what I teach at SCAD—but I come from a background of painting, drawing and illustration.”
At the residency, Bartone’s work came about by accident and luck.
“I wanted to make really big etchings, and at Venice Printmaking Studio, they have a really big press and big tanks for etchings, and no quality control and nobody watching the acids,” he laughs.
Cue Bartone using industrial-grade acid for his printmaking process, which ended up burning out areas of the piece in ways he didn’t expect.
“I was forced to go in a different direction, and from doing that, it completely changed my work in a good way,” he says. “I started working with it, scraping into the plate and stuff.”
Bartone switched to the soft ground process, which uses a copper plate that directs the acid.
“The copper plate is like a combination of metalworking and drawing, so you burnish areas out,” he explains. “You can keep putting grounds on and keep adding, which is what I like about it.”
For his work, Bartone does a lot of research.
“The idea is the balance between order and chaos, and these are based on the Biblical plagues,” he says of one body of work. “I’m not religious at all, but I was interested in the story and how awful they are, and I was also using them to guide myself. If I don’t have any boundaries, I just go all over the place; I always need an assignment.”
Bartone shares that if he weren’t an artist, he’d go into the biology field because of how much research he does. In addition to ancient disease and destruction, he also reads a lot of Shakespeare in an effort not to get myopic with his work.
For Berzins, the creative process looks a little different.
“It’s mostly bad ideas,” he says. “The worse the idea, the further I’ll go with it. I’m really committed to whatever the idea is and taking it as seriously as possible, so I execute it really well. If the drawing is weird, I’ll frame it really well, or something to a level that’s unnecessary.”
Berzins graduated from SCAD in 2014 with a degree in sequential art, and that background certainly informs much of his work. For this exhibition, he shows the original drawing next to the finished product, be it a poster or a T-shirt.
This is Berzins’ first show outside of a group setting, but that’s not necessarily abnormal for a sequential artist.
“This is commercial illustration, so it’s a weird thing where usually if you’re Jack Davis or someone, a comic book artist that’s famous, years later you look back on your work and display it,” explains Berzins. “While they’re alive, this is just the work. This stuff, nobody really cares about it except real niche people that are really into it. I like the idea of sharing some of this.”
The closing reception for “Inked” is Dec. 14, so make time to see this unique exhibition at the Hen House’s new space.