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Zygote Press exalts the mundane and more

Obsessions, science, and doses of visual poetry — from color-coded maps and quirky lists, to deadly sins and even a "50,000 pound woman" — are sampled at this year's biennial 4U exhibition held at Zygote Press.

The show skims the cream from the printmaking efforts of students based at four area university art departments. Though a few faculty members are nominally included, it's intended primarily to jump-start the résumés of fledgling artists and give them a taste of formal exhibition circumstances. And because of the presence of a few very strong pieces, it's also a treasure hunt.

Kent State associate professors Noel Reifel and Michael Loderstedt — both Zygote regulars — culled nearly 100 works from a pool of images and explorations submitted by the Toledo School of Art, Cleveland Institute of Art, the University of Akron, and KSU.

The results, accompanied at the opening reception by a portfolio session featuring additional work by the artists on exhibit, is typical of the community-building workshops, critiques, and outreach events that Zygote Press capably hosts without breaking a sweat. Since the not-for-profit's founding in 1996, the organization has become Ohio's premier artist-run print workshop, tying together many of the state's artistic loose ends.

The show provides a mostly likable stew of very different sensibilities, projects, and processes, including intaglio, woodcut, and photo-based etching and lithography. There are a few ho-hum repetitions of patterns and motifs here, as well as a few items that are just plain odd. (One such example: "Security," a six-foot-tall linocut by Cleveland Institute of Art student Adam Kujawski, which features a cartoon-like man in a loincloth, holding a spear.) But those are offset by a variety of striking images throughout the gallery — unexpected deviations from printmaking's staid routines that provide more than a few surprises.

Clips grip the edges of three larger-than-life paper skulls, anchoring them to lengths of fishing line strung overhead, while on the floor below a shiny rocking horse has been converted into a makeshift press. Both are the creations of Michael Loderstedt, who titles the skulls "The Futility of Desire." Marked with a tight, jewel-like pattern rendered in Cleveland Browns colors, the skull in the middle makes reference to British artist Damien Hirst's diamond-encrusted head bone. Loderstedt regards these as an extended self-portrait, and they typify the blend of offbeat morbidity and inspired playfulness that alternate everywhere here.

Snippets of family history, passages of soul-searching, and innovative autobiographical sketches preoccupy many of the show's artists. Akron student Zachariah Szabo overlaps a schematic aerial view of a few Cleveland city blocks with a photo-based etching of an old-time storefront. Partly boarded up, it evokes the pathos of urban decline and commercial change.

CIA's Shawn Jackson shows two color woodcuts that derive their strong line qualities from the look of 19th-century Ukiyo-E prints. Each one pictures a half-naked hermit struggling with a moral dilemma. In "Pride," the figure is seen seated on a rock amid a frothing surf. He flails emaciated arms as a cat claws at his head. "Sloth," meanwhile, shows him crouched and scowling in the grass, his long hair outlined by a halo.

Most moving is an etching by Toledo artist Helen Grubb that reproduces a seemingly uninteresting receipt from a Dollar Tree store. At first it looks like the real thing, but a slight shakiness in the lettering makes it clear enough that this is actually a freehand version.

But it's the purchases themselves that make a lasting impression. Like a terse poem, the list ticks off the passing priorities of someone's life: liquid makeup, paper plates, "party time" cups, three artificial garlands, two pregnancy tests. The poignancy is partly in the things themselves, emphasized by the steady throb of the "1.00" prices adding up in the column opposite them. Here, a print is seen to be a receipt of sorts, for experience and intention tendered.

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More by Douglas Max Utter

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