After several years of Bunnell Street Arts Center artist residencies, the concept has evolved into a simple but elegant concept. Invite an artist to stay in one of the Old Inlet Trading Post apartments. Give them a corner of the gallery to set up a studio. Let them enjoy life in a small arts town with an awesome natural setting. Ask them to conduct workshops on their craft and art. Step back.
Ideally the artist leaves something in the community — a new dance, a new way of looking at art and maybe an installation. Something else happens, too, as this fall’s Rasmuson Artist in Residence Claudio Orso-Giacone points out. People may learn from him, but he also learns from the people he teaches on his visits.
“That’s the best school you’re going to have, connecting with artists,” Orso-Giacone said. “I feel like I’ve won some amazing and coveted lottery to be here in this kind of landscape. It’s an intense and inspiring place.”
Orso-Giacone, 52, visits from Oberlin, Ohio, a small Midwestern college town that’s the home of Oberlin College. Married to an American with two children, he was born and raised in Turin, Italy, in the Italian Alps. He came to the United States via Mexico 23 years ago. Orso-Giacone works as a puppet and mask maker. Last month he did workshops in making masks from recycled paper like Cap’n Crunch cereal boxes. From noon-5 p.m. Wednesdays and Saturdays through this month he conducts open-studio workshops in printmaking.
In an interview on Sept. 30 at his temporary studio in the Bunnell gallery, Orso-Giacone talked as he worked. He sprinkles his conversation with quotes from Italian and other writers. In talking about a printing press donated to Bunnell by the late Gaye Wolfe, he shows a print he made that’s a self portrait of him with the words “Bless you Gaye Wolfe.” Orso-Giacone acknowledges the spirit of the printmaker that used the press before.
“The sympathetic magic follows the souls of the people who use them,” he said.
That same spirit is in his tools. He has a collection of carving tools with names like “Jacques” or “Rembrandt,” the better to remember their shape and use. Orso-Giacone carves playful, but also serious, woodblocks inspired by beach walks and visits to Homer. In one print a fisherman drives a boat in a dynamic sea. Another print has a familiar scene of two eagles sitting on a driftwood log that shows a side of them not always noticed.
“They have a lot of dignity,” he said of bald eagles. “I always thought they were stiff as birds. They have humor. They are very observant.”
The art of printmaking goes back millennia and has been around as long as we have been human, he said. Ancient people carved bone or wood to stamp designs into pottery or onto cloth. Making the printing object simplifies the image. Light is light, dark is dark, Orso-Giacone said.
“It’s all about edges,” he said.
Printmaking is a community activity and an egalitarian effort, he said.
“They’re affordable. They can travel. They’re timely. They’re easy to make,” he said of the tools of the trade.
Orso-Giacone uses plywood blocks made of soft wood and glue that’s easy to carve. He draws his images on the wood — in reverse, of course — and then goes over it with a black marker. A coat of pink paint makes the image easier to see. The artist carves away the painted part, the negative space that won’t be inked. When he’s done, Orso-Giacone has a handful of pink wood shavings.
“I take this as therapy for my lack of impatience,” Orso-Giacone said of carving wood blocks.
The printing press has its own temperament. Orso-Giacone fusses with trying to get the ink to spread on the wood block and the image to print evenly. “Too salty,” he said when the ink doesn’t print right. Humidity and temperature can affect a printing press.
“It’s like a musical instrument,” Orso-Giacone said. “Every day you have to tune it.”
Orso-Giacone said he likes printmaking because it’s a reflective medium. As controlled as the artist might try to be, the final product won’t be known until that first print is pressed.
“We don’t live in a time of reflection. We live in a time of reaction,” he said. “Your proof is to see how you reflect.”
Printmaking also has a connection with writing. Making multiple copies of the written word also is printing, but the design of letters also has a similar aesthetic as the design of a woodblock print. Letters have edges.
“Reading is pattern recognition of letters. Letters are black and white,” he said. “My brain and heart see a word better. I let it into my heart.”
The idea carries through even with computer word processing and cold-type printing, but traditional word printing has another feel.
“When a word has not only been pressed on the paper, but composed letter by letter, it carries a different meaning,” Orso-Giacone said. “It’s the percentage of the human content that makes a difference.”
Last Friday, Orso-Giacone opened a show of his past and current work. Some was done at a residency in Jackson Hole, Wyo., that he shipped to Homer when he left there, knowing Homer would be his next stop. Orso-Giacone remains in Homer through Nov. 15. For more information on his workshops, visit Bunnell’s website at bunnellarts.org.
Michael Armstrong can be reached at email@example.com.
Rasmuson Artist in Residence
Bunnell Street Arts Center
Open printmaking studios,
Noon-5 p.m., Wednesdays and Saturdays, Oct. 12, 15, 19, 22, 26, 29
Free to Bunnell members; $25 nonmembers