Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Shared Vision

Working together on a project can be difficult. Each person brings his or her own skills, inspirations, goals and working styles, and sometimes combining them as a group can be a challenge.

Fortunately, that’s not what happened when Amy Newell, Rachel Davis and Lauren Garber Lake joined forces. Instead, the three printmakers combined their individual talents and styles to create a beautiful and poetic series of prints and collages.

The three were graduate school classmates in UW–Madison’s art department. Newell, an associate curator at Tandem Press, had collaborated with Garber Lake and Davis before, but the trio had never worked together on a project. They decided to pursue a group project and thought an arts residency at Edenfred would be the ideal place to do it.

“After hearing about Edenfred a few years ago, we had the idea to try and recreate our grad school experience,” Newell says. “There was a group of about ten of us who worked together in the studio, had classes together and held critique groups together. Everyone from this group had moved away from Madison but were always pining to come back. So we decided to apply to Edenfred as a group.”

The goal was for the group to create both independent and collaborative projects, but things didn’t work out exactly as planned.

“By the time we got our acceptance letter from Edenfred, two people were pregnant, one was getting married and a few others had backed out for a variety of reasons,” Newell says. “It was down to just me, Lauren and Rachel.”

The three spent two weeks last August and September at Edenfred. But before arriving, Davis, a Chicago artist, sent her partners the poem Giant Snail by Elizabeth Bishop, which would prove to be the project’s main inspiration.

“She thought it was so visually rich that it might make a good springboard for our collaborative work,” Newell says. “After reading the poem Lauren and I both agreed.”


Here is the poem:

Giant Snail
By Elizabeth Bishop

The rain has stopped. The waterfall will roar like that all
night. I have come out to take a walk and feed. My body—foot,
that is—is wet and cold and covered with sharp gravel. It is
white, the size of a dinner plate. I have set myself a goal, a
certain rock, but it may well be dawn before I get there.
Although I move ghostlike and my floating edges barely graze
the ground, I am heavy, heavy, heavy. My white muscles are
already tired. I give the impression of mysterious ease, but it is
only with the greatest effort of my will that I can rise above the
smallest stones and sticks. And I must not let myself be dis-
tracted by those rough spears of grass. Don’t touch them. Draw
back. Withdrawal is always best.
The rain has stopped. The waterfall makes such a noise! (And
what if I fall over it?) The mountains of black rock give off such
clouds of steam! Shiny streamers are hanging down their sides.
When this occurs, we have a saying that the Snail Gods have
come down in haste. I could never descend such steep escarp-
ments, much less dream of climbing them.
That toad was too big, too, like me. His eyes beseeched my
love. Our proportions horrify our neighbors.
Rest a minute; relax. Flattened to the ground, my body is like
a pallid, decomposing leaf. What’s that tapping on my shell?
Nothing. Let’s go on.
My sides move in rhythmic waves, just off the ground, from
front to back, the wake of a ship, wax-white water, or a slowly
melting floe. I am cold, cold, cold as ice. My blind, white bull’s
head was a Cretan scare-head; degenerate, my four horns that
can't attack. The sides of my mouth are now my hands. They
press the earth and suck it hard. Ah, but I know my shell is
beautiful, and high, and glazed, and shining. I know it well,
although I have not seen it. Its curled white lip is of the finest
enamel. Inside, it is as smooth as silk, and I, I fill it to perfection.
My wide wake shines, now it is growing dark. I leave a lovely
opalescent ribbon: I know this.
But O! I am too big. I feel it. Pity me.
If and when I reach the rock, I shall go into a certain crack
there for the night. The waterfall below will vibrate through
my shell and body all night long. In that steady pulsing I can
rest. All night I shall be like a sleeping ear.


Since Newell, Davis and Garber Lake, a professor at the University of Florida, are all printmakers, they had common ground in working together. Yet each was able to incorporate her own aesthetic and technique into the project.

“We each have our own visual language and brought that, along with all of our tools and bags of tricks, to the studio,” Newell says. “We have looked at each others’ work for years and have a deep appreciation for each others imagery. I think if you are familiar with our individual work you can break down some of the collaborative images into ‘Lauren’s mark,’ ‘Amy’s mark,’ ‘Rachel’s mark,’ but I think their success is in the melding of our individual styles.”

The group’s collaborative prints and collages, as well as wood reliefs by Tandem Press printmaker Andy Rubin, are showcased through August 31 at Sundance Cinemas Madison. A special artists reception with poetry and music takes place tonight at 5:30 p.m.

Images courtesy of Amy Newell.

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