Painting shotI have been making art (mostly printmaking) for the last 20 years. I received my BFA from Washington University (St. Louis), my MFA from Northern Illinois University, and taught printmaking and design at Portland State University for six years. I’ve exhibited widely across the United States and my prints are included in numerous private and public collections.

I am currently working on three series of art: 

With the PRESIDENTS and MY HEROINES series, I use a variety of drawing and printmaking techniques to reflect upon (mostly) American historical and current events in a satirical and thoughtfully critical way. Each piece depicts an individual symbolically caught in a moment of time.

With the PORTRAIT series, I draw people throughout history that I respect and am fascinated by. One notion that I am exploring with these works is to make art that is affordable (whether it’s a print that you hang in your home or wear on a t-shirt).

I live outside of Portland, OR with my husband, kids, geriatric pitbull, and a well-worn etching press.



PUSH PRINTDescribe your work.

I’m working out a couple of concepts at the moment, the first a series of selected US presidents. The idea behind this work was borne of my interest in the current political climate, the modern concept of war and the desire to understand the “Imperial Presidency.” I seek to provoke the viewer by asking questions and offering perspectives.  The second series consists of linoleum cut relief prints with black ink on Arches cream paper. In these works I look at people throughout history that I respect and am fascinated by. One notion I’m exploring is to make art that is affordable. I want to bring these cultural icons into people’s homes. It really is emulating those generations of African-Americans and Irish-Americans that celebrated the lives of JFK and MLK with their portraits hanging prominently in their living rooms.

Early influences.

My first exposure to art of any kind was a fourth grade trip to the Missouri state capital building in Jefferson City. The capital is full of very large murals by Thomas Hart Benton. Benton created these wonderful paintings in 1935 and 1936, and they are a great example of New Deal art. The murals are filled with political and historical commentary and mostly depict the heroism of everyday life. It wasn’t until much later that I realized the impact of Benton’s work on my own.

How did you get into printmaking?

At eighteen I went off to college at the University of Chicago intending to study medicine. I had facility for math, science, abstract concepts and great hand/eye coordination, but no interest.  Since I associated the University of Chicago with a career in medicine, I came to see it as a waste of time and money. As a result, I moved home to work on art at the University of Missouri. My first class, Intro to Printmaking, was taught by Tom Huck. Tom’s enthusiasm for process and teaching was a good fit for my interest in matching concept with detail. A year after taking Tom’s class, under his suggestion, I transferred to Washington University in St. Louis, and started the BFA program in printmaking.

What responses do you get to your work?

It varies quite a bit. In my early twenties, my work dealt a lot with sexual politics and shock and had a polarizing effect. People were embarrassed, even offended (which is fine by me) or they took up the challenge and found something to identify with. Currently, the work is often (but not always) more subtle. There are still moments of satire and hopefully offense in my prints, but the overall tone is more layered. For instance, I created a linocut depicting Ronald and Nancy Reagan riding leisurely on horseback through a barren desert. In this piece it’s not immediately evident what my point of view is. The viewer has to spend more time with the piece, bringing their own opinions and biases about Ron and Nancy to bear.

How has your technique developed?

My mark making over the years has gotten more simple and deliberate. The portrait series has really helped me refine how I use line within my prints. I think I edit more now. Glitter, money, resin, stickers, gold leaf, beads, actual baby bottle nipples all found their way into my work. As I’ve been at this longer, I’ve become more confident in my images. The more I work, the better I become at creating and communicating my narratives through simple mark making and composition.

What does printmaking mean to you?

History and community.

When you carve a mark in wood or linoleum or draw a line in a piece of zinc, that image becomes a part of the long and rich history of printmaking. The marks of a relief print have an inherent sadness to them; because of the depiction of social commentary, war, poverty, and political satire that has dominated the history of the process. I can’t make a print without seeing the direct influence and tenor of works by Albrecht DurerKathe Kollwitz, or Otto Dix. You could create a relief print of a teddy bear holding a dozen roses and probably still seem dark. It’s this baggage that I love about printmaking and something that is wholly unique to the process.
Printmaking also means community to me. It was the community of printmaking that I think, probably more than anything, fit my sensibility. It also led me to my graduate school mentor Michael Barnes. Michael really helped me become a more precise printmaker and taught me how to appreciate and use the characteristics of the medium. I think that without the relationships and affiliation of the print community, it would be difficult to develop in a way I would be satisfied with. It all stems from the need to work in a shop environment with shared equipment; printmakers are constantly around one another sharing information. It would be hard for me to have evolved into the artist I am today without the community that surrounds printmaking.

Walk me through a day in your studio.

Each day is a little bit different. I may have an idea for an image rolling around in my head for several months before I draw it on a piece of linoleum. Once I decide to commit an image to a block, I spend a couple weeks drawing it, and another month or so cutting the block. From there, I proof the block on my press in my studio, and then I tack the image to the wall and mull it over for a week or so. After that, if I need to make changes to the plate, I do, or I scrap it and start all over. The biggest mistake you can make is to want something to work when it just doesn’t. I drew and carved my JFK and the Moon linocut three times before I got Kennedy’s face right.  

If it works, I then print the edition which can take a couple days. Because I tend to work in series, I usually have several pieces going at once.

How has your subject matter evolved?

My art has grown up with me. In the beginning, there was a lot of angst in my work, and a need to be more blatant. While everything I make is still personal, it’s all couched in a larger framework. I am no longer interested in simply embarrassing or shocking viewers.  I am interested in seducing with the hope of a longer term dialogue.

What inspires you these days?

After having my kids, I became obsessed with researching my family history. I had heard things here and there, the little pieces of lore all families have, but it was really amazing to finally string some of the pieces together. I still have a lot to uncover about my family history and stories, and it seems that as soon as I think I have it figured out, I find something new and my whole perspective changes. 

 I am a combination of many different American stories. The things I have discovered about my genealogy make me want to delve even deeper into who I am, and what it means to be an American. By twisting, torturing, examining, and obsessing over the past in my prints, I hope to get closer to an answer.

What do you enjoy most about printmaking?

I have a love/hate relationship with each step that it takes to make a print. But more than anything, it lets me indulge and benefit from my obsessive nature. Nothing rewards hard work and practice like printmaking.

Contact V. Wallace