Printmaking students to attend conference in New Orleans

By Olivia Willoughby

While some students might skip town for Cancun or flee the continent for a week in paradise, some printmaking students are etching their way down to New Orleans.

This year, the Southern Graphics Council International (SGCI) will be held March 14 through 17, gathering numerous printmakers from across the world. Art associate professor Michael Barnes has visited the conferences since 1994, during his grad school years. Since he began teaching at NIU in 1998, he brought his students along.

“I did these types of activities when I was a student, and thus realized their importance to achieving success in the field,” Barnes said. “These conferences can be tremendous inspirations. The students get fired up seeing all these artists’ work.”

The conference, in simple terms, is a big gathering of artists and artisans who present their works to each other.

“It’s awesome,” said graduate printmaking major Aaron Coleman. “It’s a million printmakers all geeked out about looking at and talking about printmaking.”

During the SGCI conferences, there are lectures, exhibitions and presentations by several keynote speakers, Barnes said.

“There’s also a gigantic open portfolio session,” Barnes said. “Collectors and curators come by to look at the work. Students get to show their work outside of the NIU community. It’s like an international forum.”

The conference also offers instruction for attendees.

“They have workshops for new processes and learning different techniques,” said senior printmaking major Sam Cikauskas.

The printmakers are also traveling to New Orleans to honor two students who won the SGCI Student Fellowships for their proposals. Before winning the award, students must submit a proposal about what they would do with the money, Barnes said.

“Just being nominated was really overwhelming and exciting,” said senior printmaking major Ryan Kangail. “I didn’t think that out of all the applications possible that I’d get that far. It was earned, so it feels good.”

Kangail’s proposal won him the undergraduate award for $500. It stems from his last piece of work, a series of six 18×24 etchings.

“My work is about myself and how I fit in,” Kangail said. “As a new graduate, I’m focusing on my life and how I see it. This will be similar to my work, with a twisted environment, dealing with space and my relationship with space. Like how small you are.”

Alongside Kangail, Coleman won $1000 for his graduate proposal. Both students will use the award to work on their pieces.

“My idea is to create a conversation between the image and text,” Coleman said. “A new way of thinking about objects or subjects is what I’m representing.”

Coleman said he was excited about winning the award, allowing him to show his work and explain to other printmakers why he won the award. His proposal consisted of 10 large-scale mezzotints, which are old, traditional ways of engraving.

Barnes said he is proud of his Kangail and Coleman.

“I was excited when I found out. Maybe even more excited than them,” he said. “We have three awards: one for printmaking, one for the graduate and undergraduate. That puts us on a map more than we already are on.”