Editor’s note: Louise Rosen shares her impressions of printmaker Greg Shattenberg’s show “The Print Master’s World: Too Intimate for Words,” hung through June 9 at L/A Arts Gallery, 221 Lisbon St. Rosen is director of L-A Arts. 

Greg Shattenberg’s world is chockablock with gear. V-stacked drawers of type cases, tins of inks, arcane and beautiful objects such as a glass ink pestle. His studio house contains (was it five?) different types of printing presses, each one is what seems like tons of iron, engineered to do just one thing well. Graceful fly wheels and nickel-knobbed spokes that turn gears. Like large animals pasturing in the different rooms of the ground floor. Here and there on the bare plaster walls are taped a few prints – spare shapes, monochrome type, floating lines of text.

You ascend to the upper floor. Two of his mother’s oil-on-black-velvet floral paintings are on the electric blue staircase wall, the disarming kitsch lightness of the word “cantina” springs to mind, a misdirect. Up here, frames and finished prints are in various states of assembly or disassembly. In one room those same floating lines of text are surrounded and in places obscured, by intensely saturated color from oil pastels. Sometimes the pastels have been rubbed and filled, lines of color appear and disappear, luminous. Decaying plant matter, clusters of wet, luscious elderberries. The shadowed softness of the negative spaces where leaves join stems appear as dark clefts, the edge of leaves seem fleshy, like the curve of a backside or a soft member resting on a thigh. These plant parts seen in vignette have this human quality, yet stepping back from them you can almost smell the damp soil in which they’ve grown.

But then you go in closer to fully read the text. As it collates you may find your cheeks flushing or feel a sudden self-consciousness. For the words you are taking in, alongside the skin and crevices of the drawings, are so intimate, so sensual it’s as if you are looking into a strangers’ bedroom as they are coupling, pausing to observe one another and coupling again.

The words are a mashup of passages from James Joyce, interspersed with Shattenberg’s own. Joyce’s “Ulysses” was originally banned in the U.S. and UK as “obscene” and these prints that gather his words with strangely suggestive images point to why the cultural sensibilities of 1922 would have found Joyce so disruptive.

Drifting into another room Shattenberg’s disruption takes different forms and the use of photography with text has a completely different tone and tempo. Percussive, staccato … this is more of a monologue compared to the sexy Joyceian dialogue in the other room. Here some of the images are literal, quotidian and wryly funny, others have been distorted and turned abstract. A double sided triptych gives an impression of stained glass. While it may be the voice of a younger man, this more political self also conveys an urgency that feels very contemporary. And here again, there’s an element of surprise; the graphically pleasing use of color, font and image that on closer examination reveals an edgy commentary.

He speaks in yet another voice in a major series of more than 20 pieces contained in roughhewn, whitewashed frames. In these a single word takes precedence, remonstrating and declarative, in the center of each frame. There’s a calibrated background to each, like mapping coordinates or topography. Individually, in their sunbleached appearance, these are masquerading as decorative rune stones. But collectively, you could easily imagine these filling a vast wall space, as one enormous, loaded statement.

All these words but what is the artist saying? Are Shattenberg’s works more insistent in that they include words? Do they make his work more literal and direct? His lead type makes deep impressions on the fibrous paper, layered with painstaking printmaking and textured drawing. Are the words intended and used on an impressionistic plane, like a thick brushstroke of paint, a slope of marble or a heft of bronze? That’s what it feels like. That connection to the last century’s game-changing modernism is there, with a romantic intensity. At the same time there is something so stunningly current – the rap-like convergence of words with their different rhythms, the colorist abstraction taken in close-up. Deeply felt, powerfully communicated, immediate.

“In the Smithy,” by Greg Shattenberg

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