The Prince of revelatory prints
In honor of African-American Heritage Month, StoneMetal Press received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to bring Steve Prince, a Virginia-based artist and activist, to San Antonio for a celebratory Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend. At various venues, Prince opened two exhibitions of prints and drawings, held a printmaking demonstration, and conducted a workshop. A perfect choice to celebrate activism and progress, the artist’s images are accessible to a wide audience and offer an alternative message to the grit and grime of status quo.
Prince takes a Linoleum block, his printing tool of choice, with him wherever he goes, like an avid reader toting a book. Because he uses “Battleship Gray,” a firmer, more resistant Linoleum, he makes quick, energetic cuts. Layered compositions with windy movement are densely packed with lines, patterns, and symbols.
|“Living Epistle,” a linocut print by Steve Prince, is on view at the Carver Cultural Center as part of the show, Urban Epistles: End Notes, through March 5.|
Just east of downtown, the Carver Cultural Center features Prince’s Urban Epistles: End Notes, a series of morality tales of sorts. When the artist heard he would be exhibiting work at the Carver, he researched his audience and found that families tend to visit most often. He selected Urban Epistles because the work incites discussion about youth culture’s dangerous obstacles. In everyday life, Prince works with at-risk teenagers, teaching art and developing mentoring programs. Printmaking expands his activism, providing commentary on the popular culture that tends to distract and consume young people.
The Carver images are large (though hung too low on the wall for the average viewer). It was Prince, however, who dominated the room on opening night. He is so tall that, in a weird shift of scale, he can turn a room full of adults into children. He magnetically drew groups of viewers through the exhibition, decoding religious symbolism like a shepherd leading his flock. Honestly, you need to be a biblical scholar to be the best of sleuths when decoding his multi-layered scenes, but the artist uses the Bible in a literary way that will appeal to the religious and secular humanists alike.
Worth Repeating II:
Urban Epistles: End notes
In “One Fish,” Prince begins with the biblical line, “I want to make you fishers of men,” creating a scene with people of all races and professions hooking others on fishing lines and pulling them in, putting us all together in the same proverbial boat. The people being reeled in can’t be judged by their covers — even a pastor needs reeling in. The cracked house in the corner is, literally, a crack house. Other houses bend and curve organically. This is Prince’s personification of the phrase “all flesh is grass,” a lush way of saying all things are temporary, including the inanimate, and inadequate, social structures we keep chipping away at.
StoneMetal Press’s Blue Star gallery features a second exhibition, Worth Repeating II: African American Originals. This show pairs smaller linocuts by Prince with prints by Joanette Duncan of Tyler. Duncan explores her heritage more abstractly, using shadowy figures, embossed paper, concentric circles, and African masks to create rich, though traditional, compositions that are easy on the eye. Each work is quite different from the next, connected by their range of sepia tones.
Smaller linocuts by Prince line three of StoneMetal’s walls. Some were specifically made to illustrate his wife Valerie Prince’s book, Burnin’ Down the House: Home in African American Literature. One of the most successful, straightforward prints is the book’s cover image, a close-up portrait of his wife, burning match in hand, a house in flames in the distance.
Prince is a native of New Orleans and, as part of his demonstrations in San Antonio, he began a 7-foot drawing reimagining a New Orleans horse-and-rider parade theme. In another example of using art to catalyze progress, his finished piece will be auctioned off at StoneMetal and proceeds from the sale will benefit a Katrina relief fund and StoneMetal Press’ programs. •