Posted on 16 February 2010 | By Richard Friswell
An industrial park is not a likely spot to discover passion, at least not the kind we report on in ARTES e-Magazine. But, the big, black SUV in the parking lot means that the ‘artist is in the house’. Print maker, Roxanne Faber Savage approaches her task with a particular passion that makes the process of creating art look both deliberative and revelatory at the same time. Roxanne is fast becoming a master of the trade, but allows herself to be surprised by the process of print making each day. This trait serves as a critic’s marker for what expertise in any creative endeavor should be all about: allowing for the element of surprise in a medium that an artist has come to know well.
I met Roxanne here at her studio on a day when she brings her newest work together to review and consider the possibilities going forward. Prints are pinned to the walls and scattered on the floor like so many designer’s samples—each waiting its turn to be evaluated, scrutinized, critiqued and sometimes even put away for a while. Savage’s print-making style is evolutionary, where she learns from her failures as well as her successes. I watch as she sits on the concrete floor of her studio, a recently-produced piece in her hands. Sometimes the answer she seeks is clear, sometimes not immediately so. But, each work serves as a step on her journey.
A fair inquiry might be: Where is this journey taking us? Knowing the artist, I posed the question surmising already what the answer might be. “I let the work drive the creative process,” Roxanne explains. “This is a very tactile experience for me. I love the feel of the materials—the papers and inks. I never know where I might end up, but I let the materials I’m working with direct the outcome. Then, it’s my task to decide whether I like where we’ve arrived together.” The result is a range of deeply symbolic images linked by the common elements of inspiration from nature, graphic intensity and a personal desire to achieve visceral impact through her work.
Working in studios in both Connecticut (Center for Contemporary Print Making, Norwalk) and New York City (Kathy Caraccio Print Studio) and using time-tested print-making techniques that are as old as print making itself, as well as mixed media, Savage describes her work as, “feeling-based”. “I animate the materials and let them speak to me. I want the process to do what it wants to do. When ink escapes the lines or the application goes in a direction I hadn’t planned, that’s when the process becomes interesting to me. I have learned to expect the unexpected and allow that serendipitous outcome to inform me as an artist,” Savage says.
“I don’t need clarity when I approach a subject,” Savage explains. “I am much more excited about the unknown.” This sense of working within the margins of the unexpected has an historical foundation with other great printmakers. Abstract Expressionism ushered in a new generation of American artists, like Rauschenberg, Warhol and contemporary artist, David Salle, all of whom valued the accidental effects that the printing process could create. Picasso, too, relied on the whimsy of the printer’s press to create second and third state images that took on a life of their own.
Savage’s work appears to follow the subtle influences of seasonal change in New England. “In winter, when the trees are bare of leaves, the moon and sky are on my mind. Because of the dark and cold, these natural elements gain primacy in ways that they wouldn’t at another time of the year,” she explains. “Much to the chagrin of my kids, I will sometimes suddenly pull off the road and stop the car to take in some scene or spectacle of nature that others may just drive by.” Her Moon Project is the result of this kind of observation of nature. The resulting images are abstracted, interpretive and haunting. Phases of a blue-gray orb hang suspended, often repeating in slightly different iterations, offering a fourth dimension to the work—the implied passage of time. Multi-layered and enigmatic, her moon series offers that same sense of mystery that has bridled man’s imagination about our closest celestial neighbor since our earliest awareness of the surrounding universe. As is the case with, Half and Half Quattro (2009), Savage may enhance the image by drawing directly on the print. “For me, the figure of the moon carries with it a primal sense of wonder. Spontaneously adding to this piece, as it went to press, allowed me to add a sense of wonder and surprise that adds contextual meaning and a level of complexity that I am after in all the work I do,” she says.
Another motif that finds traction in Savage’s work is her Heaven’s Power Lines Series. “Objectivity doesn’t really interest me,” she says. “The symbolism or synthesis of an object is what matters.” For Savage, the bird and cloud-filled skies in her work provide a glimpse of the spiritual unknown that may lie beyond. But, for the earth-bound viewer, an array of birds, neatly ordered on power lines, reminiscent of the choir of angels hovering in Michael Damaskenos’ late 16th century depiction of The Adoration of the Magi , symbolize a gathering force of nature that lies just beyond our reach or ability to fully understand. Telephone wires are strung between poles that tilt at vertiginous angles into the scene—like primitive snares designed to capture, or at least converse, with these elusive free spirits.
Savage’s Yin for this particular Yang is her Bird Cage Series. Heavily barred and absent any doors, these ominously-formed confinement devices are apparently over-engineered for their assigned task. Here, Savage might have us believe that containing the spirit symbolized by her birds-in-flight will be no easy task. Confinement is a theme that repeats itself in her oeuvre and serves as one of many ideographs for principle themes in her life and her print making. Topics like freedom, confinement, death and mortality, sex and intimacy and rebirth all find their way into much of her work, at present. “These are issues that matter to me. “I represent them symbolically in my work,” she says. “But when they leave my hands, the interpretation belongs to the viewer.” Savage explores the boundaries between science, literature and theology in her work and each piece is layered in meaning, not only symbolized by the images themselves, but by the extensive working and re-working of the matrix surface itself. Here, content, form and process combine to produce a complex and thought-provoking result.
The Red Box Series is one such example. A fundamental shape in the everyday world (and, ironically, a starting point for every new art student), Savage treats the basic cube with the same desire to interpret anew and then reinterpret again, this most basic of forms! Her red boxes are attempting to escape their own limits—their own ‘boxness’—to become something else (or something more?). As if repetition will provide some different result, Savage’s boxes reconfigure themselves in illogical planes, teasing out nuances of shading, angularity and mass only, in the end, to remain…a box. Much like Beethoven’s Thirty-Two Variations in C minor, for piano, we watch (listen!) as the artist addresses a central theme time-and-again, each version providing new ways of considering the central motif.
In similar ways, all of Savage’s images seem to animate themselves for the viewer, as we vicariously participate in this process of Darwinian-like evolution; much like watching a chick struggle to escape the confines of its shell, elated when the bird is finally free of its confines, but knowing we could not have one without the other. The invitation to join in partnership with the artist, who is apparently having as much fun as we are, allows us to gain insight into some of the secrets of the creative process as a series evolves. Her willingness to share her struggle and the joy of success, even with the lowly, elemental square, lies at the heart of Savage’s boundless enthusiasm for her process and becomes the reason why it can work for us.
by Richard Friswell
Visit the print making studio of Kathy Caraccio at: www.kcaraccio.com
See more of Roxanne’s work at : www.roxanneprints.com
Go to the Center for Contemporary Print Making at: www.contemprints.org