Critical DMs: McKnight Printmaking Fellowship Exhibition explores a paper version of domestic secrets

Critical DMs are lightly edited Slack conversations by members of the MPR News arts team about Minnesota art and culture. This week, Arts Editor Max Sparber and Senior Arts Reporter and Critic Alex V. Cipolle discuss the current show at the Highpoint Center for Printmaking.

Max Sparber: Let me know when you’re free!

Alex V. Cipolle: Let’s goooo.

Sparber: All right. First of all, the name of the show: McKnight Printmaking Fellowship. It’s at Highpoint Center for Printmaking in uptown Minneapolis and features two artists: Natasha Pestich and Carolyn Swiszcz.

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Cipolle: These are the hardcore facts. I vouch for them lol.

Sparber: Journalism: we start with facts.

Cipolle: The first thing that caught my eye was that Yves Klein blue.

Sparber: That’s Petisch’s work. Like, Danish buildings made of deep blue.

Cipolle: Is it Danish or Dutch?

Max Sparber: You’ve seen buildings like these, right? Dutch?

Cipolle: So yes, for me, they bring up Dutch heritage. And the blue and white of Dutch Delft pottery. But they seem to sort of reference the cozy little homes seen in a lot of Northern European countries. Almost little gingerbread homes. But when you look closer, she’s embedding some symbols. Dollar signs, stars.

Sparber: There are some buildings like this around Uptown too, covered with little gingerbread-style curlicues.

Cipolle: Yes, so many in Minneapolis and St. Paul proper.

Sparber: Usually painted bright colors instead of monochrome. They always felt very Scandinavian to me, like little Pippi Longstocking houses.

Cipolle: I’m not sure what the dollar signs and stars are intended to refer to, but the artist uses them in rows, which feels a bit like the American flag.

Sparber: Yes, they really jump out, because the houses themselves are such strong silhouettes. Getting closer, you realize they are actually cutouts that have been attached to really rough paper backgrounds. Like Victorian cut-out silhouettes, but of houses.

Cipolle: Yes like instead of paper dolls, paper houses. So Natasha is new to papermaking.

“Tangled Up in Blue,” 2023-24 by Natasha Pestich.

Max Sparber | MPR News

Sparber: Really!

Cipolle: Which is highlighted here too.

Sparber: She’s working in such paper-specific ways!

Cipolle: As none of these are framed and you can see the roughhewn handmade quality

Sparber: To me, that feels very mature. Like, don’t be afraid of the papery-ness. The sheer paperitude.

Cipolle: Paperitude! I also loved the shadows the jagged paper edges cast on those hyper-white walls.

Sparber: Very striking.

Cipolle: So get this: The artist says the dollar signs and stars are referencing the lotto tickets her mom used to buy!

Sparber: Autobiography!

Cipolle: Here’s a quote from the artist I found at Highpoint: “Over the fellowship year, I have been steeped in an exploration of what home means and where it resides, pulling from my personal experience of eviction. Inspired by the lottery tickets my mom regularly bought and the impromptu fridge collages my Dad forms from real estate ads and images of domestic life, I am seeking to develop a visual lexicon and material sensibility, through handmade paper and printmaking, that allows me to hold onto something while letting go of the things that cannot be changed.” Wow, the part about eviction makes this series so sad and tender, a different way of looking at home.

Sparber: There’s a lot going on in these little houses. As there always is in little houses.

Cipolle: Little houses across America.

a painting shows a boy a squirell and a tobacco shop

“Self Portrait (Squirrel),” 2024 by Carolyn Swiszcz.

Max Sparber | MPR News

Sparber: Let’s discuss the other prints, created by Carolyn Swiszcz, which I also really liked. They all have a feeling of mystery.

Cipolle: And also have a strong domestic presence.

Sparber: Yes, and a strong sense of something in a public space. They’re a good match for each other.

Cipolle: They are. So Carolyn works in a lot a lot of color.

Sparber: Her work is a lot less quietly autobiographical too. Some of these just seem to be illustrated snapshots of her life.

Cipolle: Yes, her works feel sort of like, how the specific becomes universal. These lived-in scenes. Whether a living room or a gas station parking lot.

Sparber  But she also retains a sense of unexpected and unexplained, like the image where she’s lugging a giant squirrel in front of a gas station.

Cipolle: Highly trafficked areas.

Sparber: What’s going on there?

Cipolle: I love that one. It’s better that we don’t know.

Sparber: I thought about calling her and asking, but I also felt like that would ruin it.

Cipolle: I agree.

Sparber: Let’s describe her pieces a little.

Cipolle: She also seems to be doing a bit of cutout/collage work.

Sparber: They’re very illustrative, very bright.

Cipolle: A bit like Matisse’s papercuts.

Sparber: They remind me a little of the Ezra Jack Keats book “The Snowy Day.”

Cipolle: Tell me more.

Sparber: It’s a children’s book where all the backgrounds are collages, some of them watercolor washes, some look like patterns from a wallpaper sample book. But Swiszcz’s version is rougher, sometimes with marker scrawled on it, almost punk rock feeling. Or like a zine.

Cipolle: Yes, there’s a carefree rollicking hand in her work. She’s actually publishing a zine.

Sparber: Boom, critical insight scores again.

Cipolle: Or has been, since 2017. “Zebra Cat Zebra.” Which is my new moniker.

Sparber: That’s amazing. We need to start a local art zine library at MPR News.

Cipolle: Yes, please.

Sparber: Send us your art zines!

Cipolle: I think what may be interesting about this show at Highpoint, too, is that these two artists are presenting work that is less typical for printmaking. Or at least what people think of when they think of the medium.

Sparber: Afterward, we got a nice tour of the space. They showed us a flip book of sorts.

Cipolle: Yes, of Andrea Carlson’s many-layered print of her piece, “Anti-Retro.”

Sparber: It was every layer of her print put onto clear sheets of, what? Plastic?

Cipolle:  Seemed like plastic, or maybe vellum. One of those prints of “Anti-Retro” is hanging in Mia currently. We also got to see prints in process by Minneapolis artist Leslie Barlow.

Sparber: I like seeing the works in progress. Sometimes I like them more than the completed pieces. I also like theater rehearsals better than the final shows, so that may just be a flaw in my character. But I want a flip book now.

Cipolle: Haha. Well, it’s always comforting to have great art demystified. Take it part by part to show, in fact, that mortals have done it.

Sparber: With just paper, ink, and about 30 metal machines machines that look like Victorians would use them to make pasta.

Cipolle: Pasta for giants.

The 2023 McKnight Printmaking Fellowship Exhibition will be on display at Highpoint Center for Printmaking through April 26. Highpoint will host a public conversation with the artists April 4 from 7 to 8 p.m.

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