Although printmaking is an art form with a tradition extending back hundreds of years and a vibrant community of artists today, many outside the world of visual art — myself included — have a very loose conception of what it means to be a “printmaker.” Luckily, there are men like Jeff Morin.
Last Tuesday, Morin shared his process, expertise and, most of all, his enthusiasm with a number of Lawrence’s aspiring artists. Sponsored by thINK, the printmaking club on campus, and the local Paper Fox Printmaking Workshop, Morin elaborated upon his history as an artist as well as his current projects and shared some valuable lessons on “making it” as an artist.
As a native of Northern Maine, Morin grew up speaking both French and English and upon moving to Philadelphia for college found himself in what seemed to be an entirely different country. From there, he attended UW-Madison for his graduate degree and then took a teaching job at UW-Stevens Point, where he is now the Dean of the Arts and Communications College. Today, he focuses on printmaking, graphic design and book art, working from his own print shop, sailorBOYpress.
Before listening to Morin give an informal presentation to a number of students, I sat down with Elyse-Krista Mische, founder and co-president of thINK, the printmaking club on campus. A rather new organization to Lawrence, thINK was chartered only last year, but it has already begun to establish its presence both on campus and in the community. Mische said the club’s biggest goal is to “make printmaking more well-known on campus and bring it out into the community.”
Last year the group held print workshops for interested Appletonians and sold their prints at the Alternative Giving Fair. As for their relationship to Morin, Mische said, “We work closely with [Assistant Professor of Art] Ben Rinehart, who lets us know who is ‘hot’ right now, and we decided on Jeff because he’s local […] and likes to reach out to college students.”
Morin did indeed seem enthusiastic about sharing his art with the students, and he began by explaining parts of his printing process and some of his latest projects. Recently, he collaborated with fellow artist Caren Heft on a series of three books inspired by Ars Moriendi literature, with a focus on modern “plagues” such as AIDS in Africa and female suicide bombers.
“We wanted to look at how various cultures responded in the face of these different cataclysms,” Morin said.
He also recently created a book based on the journal of a Wisconsin soldier in a Civil War prison camp. Working with fragments of text and collage, he said he “wanted the journal to feel like the scraps a person might have to work with if he was really in a prisoner of war camp.”
Then, he and a number of thoroughly impressed students continued work on a project he’d begun back in Stevens Point, a pair of prints he calls “an Adam and Eve.” He’d already laid down a texture of found-signatures and had begun printing the two figures in layers of color. When Rinehart asked how many colors he might end up using, he replied, “I have no idea. […] I’ll work until they’re done.”
That process-oriented mindset seems a key part of Morin’s approach to art and also functions as a key lesson for aspiring artists. All in all, Morin’s visit served not only as an introduction to life as a printmaker but to life as a working artist in 2011.