"Standing for the Perception of Heroes" by Michael Weigman
"Standing for the Perception of Heroes" by Michael WeigmanCourtesy the artist

‘Heavy Is a Heavy Thing’ hits pause on doom scrolling

A new printmaking exhibit opening at Blockfort today (Friday, March 1) asked contributing artists to focus on a single issue plucked from the relentless stream of news flooding the timeline.

For “Heavy Is a Heavy Thing,” a new printmaking exhibition opening at Blockfort today (Friday, March 1), co-curators Michael Weigman and Dustin Brinkman asked contributing artists to zero in on a weighty issue with which they have personally wrestled in recent times. 

“We’re inundated with bad news, and you see it in the press and on social media, where you can swipe and see everything that’s going on,” Weigman said in late February, joined by Brinkman for an interview at the downtown gallery. “But the idea with [this exhibit] is to have each artist focus on one particular moment. … We wanted the piece to have that personal connectivity, but at the same time allow for questions and larger conversations.”

“It’s a way to draw more attention to these issues that oftentimes get kind of brushed to the next cycle and to the next cycle and to the next cycle,” Brinkman said. “There’s an eternalness to a print, where these things are now set in stone.”

The curators conceived “Heavy Is a Heavy Thing” as an homage to printmaking’s roots, Weigman said, recalling how the form originated as an early means of communication, with printmakers translating the issues of the day into images that could more easily be interpreted by the masses. “And in this way, they’d be able to figure out what was going on in the environment around them,” said Weigman, who pointed to examples ranging from “The Disasters of War,” a series of 82 prints created over a decade beginning in 1810 by Spanish painter and printmaker Francisco Goya, to more recent efforts undertaken by Mexican Zapatistas, who craft revolutionary images and attach them to the sides of buildings with wheat paste. 

In that spirit, the exhibition also doubles as an art exchange, with each of the 18 participating artists receiving copies of every print on display. This, the curators said, will allow the exhibit to find continued life, creating the opportunity to stage the display in multiple locations across the country, spreading its messaging far beyond Columbus. “It’s almost like when you stare at the moon and someone somewhere else can see the same moon,” Brinkman said. “Someone from across this country might be able to see this same print at the same moment and have a similar experience.”

A range of global events are represented within the exhibit, with eye-catching prints presenting commentary on everything from the legislative push to restrict abortion rights to the unfolding genocide in Gaza. Other pieces are more cryptic in nature, including one multicolor print in which a magnified speck of dust shouts, “I’m significant,” which could be interpreted as a reflection on the role of social media and the way every voice online feels compelled to position itself as a brand.

"Tear in the Fabric of Life" by Dustin Brinkman
"Tear in the Fabric of Life" by Dustin BrinkmanCourtesy the artist

Beyond the messaging, the exhibit also serves to document the range of printmaking techniques being deployed by the skilled artists currently working nationwide within the form, highlighting everything from mezzotint printmaking, where monochromatic images are created using delicately etched copper plates, to multicolor screenprints and images that blend multiple techniques and require a balance of experimentation and control. Jacob Crook, for example, created a piece that includes both mezzotint printmaking and a more freeform technique in which he created a dripping border around the image by bleaching the paper – a comparatively organic element unique to each print.

Weigman created his piece, dubbed “Standing for the Perception of Heroes,” through a multi-tiered process, building layers of screenprints on the page and then overlaying them with an image etched into a photopolymer plate. “So, there’s this clash that’s constantly happening between each layer,” he said of the print, which incorporated a series of techniques he’s honed over the last two decades. 

The subject matter is equally dense, with Weigman, a lifelong history buff, describing the piece as a commentary on the rash of monuments that were removed in the early stages of the pandemic, including the statue of Christopher Columbus that once stood outside of the Ohio Statehouse,

“Growing up and researching things like World War I and World War II, there’s a lot of American pride that surfaces,” the artist said. “But as you get older and keep reading, you learn generals made mistakes and politicians were hiding information from people, and you begin to realize these figures that we’ve put on these [pedestals] are just as damaged as all of us. And the same goes, too, for these sculptural figures.”

Brinkman’s piece, titled “Tear in the Fabric of Life,” has its roots in the tenuous connection he feels to the concept of home, shaped from an early age by experiences he linked with generational trauma. “My grandma’s house burned down when my mom was very young, and since then there’s been this trajectory in my mom’s life, and by proxy my life, of losing a lot of homes, a lot of spaces,” said Brinkman, whose printmaking has long included images of destroyed buildings and predatory signage (“We buy homes!”). “Homes can be taken from us through different means, including the gentrification we see constantly happening in Columbus. … And when these spaces are taken from us, either violently or politically, it does something to our psyche, because we’re losing something that is supposed to be a safe haven.”

It makes sense then that Brinkman begins his pieces with a physical excavation that matches this more spiritual internal dig, chiseling the initial image in a relief block. But even the color selection in Brinkman’s prints can harken to his past, with the artist often incorporating a shade of green he linked with his memories of the wallpaper that decorated his childhood home. “It’s almost like going through the stages of grief as you work, where it’s like, ‘This is the thing I’m thinking about,’ and then you’re feeling angry and sad,” Brinkman said. “And as you’re carving, you have to move slowly, and in that [process] you might hit a level of acceptance.”

Once purged, these reconciled emotions take physical form in the shards chiseled from the relief block, linoleum shavings Brinkman has continued to collect, amassing nearly 10 pounds of scraps that he hopes to someday incorporate into another project. “Removing all of this material allows this other image to come to the surface,” he said, “and I’ve always found that idea sort of poetic.”

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