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Art Maker: Joan Dix Blair, printmaker

  • Printmaker Joan Dix Blair with some of the images from her show, “Blue Garden,” at the Oxbow Gallery in Northampton. Image courtesy of Joan Dix Blair

  • A detail from “Cutting Garden,” a ceramic installation. Image courtesy of Joan Dix Blair

  • A detail from “Cutting Garden,” a ceramic installation. Image courtesy of Joan Dix Blair

  • “Pennsylvania of My Heart #8,” monoprint. Image courtesy of Joan Dix Blair

  • “Habitat 2,” a scroll format etching from a 2017 exhibit at the Oxbow Gallery. Image courtesy of Joan Dix Blair


Friday, July 06, 2018

Longtime printmaker Joan Dix Blair, a member of Zea Mays Printing in Florence, says she learned etching and woodcut at workshops rather than in college, which has prompted her to use traditional methods of etching. “So far, this choice satisfies my goals,” she says. “However, techniques are rapidly expanding with digital media.”

For an exhibit at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery, Blair, of Williamstown, has explored a new look: cyanotypes, a special kind of photographic printing process. In all her work, she notes, “I describe my own modest place in nature. Gardens are a big subject, but this group of prints simply records my own plants. I’m recording my personal history on a plot of land.” 

Hampshire Life: Talk about the work you are doing. What does it involve, and what are you trying to achieve?

Joan Dix Blair: The cyanotypes are a new medium for me.  More like photographs than etching; the process is very improvisational. I place objects on light-sensitive paper and expose them to sunshine to make the images. Both time of day, season, and cloudiness are factors. It's a chance operation; the making is swift and exciting.

HL: What do you draw inspiration from? Do you ever have any “Eureka!” moments?

JDB: My prints transfer a recollection to paper, like a diary.  The Eureka moment would be when the image on the paper also is graphically satisfying.  

HL: How do you know when your work is finished?

JDB: For me it's best not to over-think problem prints. I make prints in series, and within them, there may be an outlier that doesn't quite fit. I think of those outliers as prophets and keep them on the wall — they’re finished but may lead to a new series.

HL: Have you ever had a mistake — a project that seemed to be going south — turn into a wonderful discovery instead?

JDB: Printing a proof of a plate can be a surprise since the image is reversed on the paper. It gives me a fresh look. I rarely take a plate too far, though I should do that more often — add more lines and tones and risk the wreck. Recently I used a group of small woodcuts to make a large, more meaningful collage.

HL: Name two artists who have influenced you. What about their work appeals to you?

JDB: The painter Agnes Martin. I love her paintings for their truth and minimalism and light. Also sculptor George Rickey. I was his personal assistant in his final years. His works were conceived for outdoor breezes, for movement in the wind, for interaction with weather, but he also made quirky, wire mobiles. 

HL: If you weren’t an artist, what do you think you’d be?

JDB: I’d like to have been a librarian. I collect art books (in a small way) so that I can visit with my favorite artists.

HL: Dream dinner party — who would you invite?

JDB: Five American artists who are icons among their generation, and whose work expands my thinking: Robert Berlind, landscape painter; Joel Shapiro, sculptor; Peter Schjeldahl, critic and essayist; Jennifer Bartlett, painter and printmaker; and Yvonne Jacquette, painter and printmaker. 

HL: What do you do when you’re stuck?

JDB: Sit in a wicker chair and listen to Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites. This clears the mind.

— Steve Pfarrer 

Joan Dix Blair’s “Blue Garden” exhibit at Northampton’s Oxbow Gallery runs through Aug. 5. There will be an opening reception at the gallery for her and fellow artist Jane Timken on Friday, July 13 from 5 to 8 p.m. Her website is joandixblair.com.