Wendy Mark kicks off Open Studio Week 2013 with visit to P.S. 99 in Queens
Studio in a School artist/instructor Rebecca Riley’s fourth grade students at PS 99 in Queens had been preparing for weeks for the arrival of artist Wendy Mark. Their class had been selected to launch Studio in a School’s third annual Open Studio week, where well-known working artists visit Studio in a School program sites to raise awareness for the importance of arts education. The more than 20 fourth graders had completed a printmaking project in the art studio, they had looked at the dreamlike images of Wendy Mark’s monotype prints online, and finally on a sunny Monday morning in mid-June, Wendy Mark arrived in their classroom with her hand-operated printing press. Everyone was excited and even the principal, Paulette Foglio, came to greet the artist. She had brought Studio in a School to PS 99Q 12 years before. “This program enables kids to think out of the box, and to work creatively in all areas,” said Foglio.
The fourth graders respectfully crowded around Wendy Mark, who seemed thrilled to be sharing her passion with the young students. She began by showing them some of her work — atmospheric images of trees, clouds and big skies that range from several inches square down to the size of a postage stamp. “I work in small spaces to create a lot of drama,” she explained. “I like to create inner landscapes that describe a feeling.” She showed the students a few images by Titian, Constable and Picasso. “I don’t work from landscapes, I’m inspired by other artists.” She then showed an impressionistic print of a woman waiting in a pickup truck with the door open: “I also really love cars.”
“My monotypes are one of a kind – that’s what ‘mono’ means,” Wendy said. “Sometimes I’ll make two or three images off the same plate because I miss them when I sell them and it makes me feel better to keep one. The first print is strong, the second is a ghost of the image… you can use that image and then paint into it.”
She explained how to create a monotype with the materials set out on the art tables for every student – a square metal plate, etching ink, brushes, Q-tips, rollers, sponges and linseed oil. “We use thick etching ink to get lots of texture, Q-tips and sponges to draw images or take out ink, and linseed oil and rollers to blur the images.”
Everyone sat down and began to create while Wendy quietly wandered through the studio, commenting on their work and answering questions. The walls of the art studio were overflowing with work these students had made during the school year – colorful paper collages of birds, black and white line drawings that expanded in concentric circles, watercolors of boats at sea, sculptures of colorful dragons.
Then came the big moment. One by one, each student placed his/her plate on the printing press. Assisting teachers put a piece of handmade paper into a tub of water, blotted the excess water by wrapping it between two other pieces of paper and pressing down with a rolling pin, inserted paper into the feeding mechanism, pulled a spongelike cover over it, then rolled the press.
As the prints came out, cries of joy and surprise erupted again and again. “Oh that’s a great painting!” Abstract color fields and patterns emerged. An impressionist landscape of trees along a river, a gauzy interpretation of an American flag, a dreamy superhero. Wendy gave each artist a quick critique: “I like it, what do you think? A beautiful abstract little piece!” One girl was so excited when her print came out that she put her paint-covered fingers to her face and the whole class burst out laughing.
When all the prints were hanging on the wall to dry, the students and Wendy reflected on what they had done – how some had created abstract images and others, concrete images. Some had concentrated on design and texture, others on color.
“Art is a good place to express your inner feelings” Wendy told them. “In monotypes, the idea of erasure to make the image is very important to the medium and to the way I use it. What to leave in and what to take out. When making images the self is presented in its deepest form. The facts of memory, love, passion, and disappearance.”
“And,” she concluded, “you’re left with a wonderful object to take home and to communicate with each other…it’s a way we tell each other the news.”
“I liked doing it,” said 10-year-old Leia, “I didn’t know what it would like.” “This is the best project we ever did,” said her classmate Jenna.
The students thanked Wendy for coming and Wendy presented the school with one of her monotypes – a pale yellow monotype called “Cloud 99 for PS99.” Wendy’s response: “This was really fun!”
After the students had left the classroom, Wendy reflected on her visit and the value of bringing working artists into the classroom: “If you are able to communicate your love of what you do in the classroom… and this is often the case when one is immersed in one’s work… this will be important for the students. This is the wonderful program of Studio in a School.”