Shedding light on the mystery

Tara Bradbury
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April White’s time at St. Michael’s Printshop has resulted in a series of work on display in a show that will open tonight. — Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

Artist April White’s current works are an exploration of the nostalgia and melancholy that come with memory loss. Her latest pieces are stark and minimal, but also metaphoric: to create them, she makes an impression, a memory of sorts, on paper, blocking some images while making a lasting impression of others.

White has spent the past year as an artist-in-residence at St. Michael’s Printshop in St. John’s, as a recipient of the Don Wright Printmaking Scholarship. Named for the late local artist, a founder of the printshop, the scholarship provides a recent arts graduate with an honorarium and free studio rental for a year. The scholarship has been awarded yearly since 1991.

Established in 1973, St. Michael’s is a non-profit, artist-run organization that provides studio facilities to artists, as well as workshops and outreach programs and a gallery space.

Scholars are chosen based partly on their innovative ideas and use of technique, said Caroline Clarke, the printshop’s business manager.

“We aim to promote printmaking as an art form and a medium in its own right and the idea is to support young artists,” she said. “Our studio manager is here and helps them out, and we work with other artists that will help give critiques throughout the year. At the end of the year, (the artist) will hopefully have a body of work that they can go on and have a show on or launch their careers on.”

White, a native of Nova Scotia, is presenting her body of work in an exhibition called “Bring to Light,” opening tonight at St. Michael’s. The pieces are lithographs, produced with a manière noire technique, with White working in negative.

With lithography, artists create an image on limestone with a greasy substance, either paint or a crayon or pencil. The stone picks up the grease and holds it. When the stone is moistened, the areas not covered by the grease soak up the water. The stone is then inked, and the greasy parts will pick up the ink, while the wet parts don’t. The inked stone and paper are then run through the press.

“It’s like a stain on the surface,” White explained of the technique. “I use a solution of chemicals, nitric acid and gum arabic, and I mix it up and kind of just hit the middle with it and use different strengths; add more nitric acid if I wanted it to burn out more of the grease. That’s how you can get the tonal range in this process.”

White admits she’s still not quite sure of the theme or meaning behind her pieces, which came about as she was creating art based on her own collection of objects: an antique butter dish, a stack of train tickets, a vintage camera from her grandmother, a piece of a plaster cast from the time she broke her ankle. As an exchange student at the University of Brighton in the U.K. last year, White began learning about minimalism and shifted her work to focus not on the objects themselves, but the space and light around them.

“It’s kind of a mystery to me, still,” she said of the meaning of her work. “It’s just this wonderful journey that I’m exploring. I keep making more of them and trying a different way every time, and they just come out in very wonderful variations of themselves.”

White has created some of the variations on purpose: in some of the pieces, she has added a layer of textured paper behind the printing paper in the press, resulting in a background pattern on the finished piece. In others, she has added flowers or leaves and stems. In some cases, she makes a print without having re-inked her stone, creating ghost-like variations in the depth of the piece. White printed another piece on very thin, sheer, fabric-like paper, which flutters in the breeze when hung.

Printmaking has similarities with sculpting, said White, who also sculpts, paints and creates performance art. That’s one reason she finds herself drawn to it.

“I found I was having issues when I would plan an image out and I knew what it was going to look like. I just didn’t want to make it,” she said. “So with this one, I have a general idea of what it’s going to look like, but then it does something different every time that’s really exciting. I’m having so much fun with these images.”

White has noticed that people who’ve seen her pieces have commented on what they think it looks like or represents — most have said the moon or a planet — and she likes leaving her work open to interpretation. Her goal is to hang the pieces all together so the variations between them can easily be seen, allowing people to consider how the work is time-based and each individual print is unique.

White, who currently works as assistant director of Eastern Edge Gallery in St. John’s, plans to continue printmaking as a specialty, as well as her other forms of artwork. She’s not sure where it will take her.

“I think for me, as long as I’m making art, that’s one hugely important thing,” she said. “I don’t have a 10-year goal, I just want to stay involved in the art world.”

“Bring to Light” will open with a reception at St. Michael’s Printshop, Harbour Drive, at 7 p.m. tonight. The exhibition will run until Sept. 6. Twitter: @tara_bradbury

Organizations: University of Brighton, Eastern Edge Gallery

Geographic location: Nova Scotia, U.K.

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