Biography Sarah Smelser, a native Californian, received her BA from UC Santa Cruz, her MFA from the University of Iowa and currently teaches intaglio printmaking at Illinois State University in Normal, IL. She has exhibited widely across the United States, and has had solo exhibitions at Bridgewater/Lustberg & Blumenfeld Gallery and Kathryn Markel Fine Arts in New York City. Her work is in such collections as Chase Manhattan Bank, Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts, Fidelity Investments, the New York Public Library, Reader’s Digest Association, and the Library of Congress. She has been an artist in residence at the Franz Masereel Center in Kasterlee, Belgium; ARTica in Bilbao, Spain; Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA; and the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. From 2006–2008 she served as the President for the Mid America Print Council, a non-profit organization of artist printmakers and educators whose membership includes printmakers, papermakers, book artists, students, curators, and collectors from across North America.
Master Printer Jonathan Higgins and Sarah Smelser co-founded Manneken Press in Morgantown, WV in 2000 and transported it to Illinois in 2002. A small print publishing venture, Manneken works with artists from around the country, editioning and publishing etchings, woodcuts, photogravure, and artist books (www.mannekenpress.com). Smelser and Higgins live in Bloomington, IL with their two daughters and one son.
Artist Statement I once saw Maxine Hong Kingston speak about her novel, Woman Warrior. She began with a disclaimer that I find appropriate. She said that she often did not know what to say about her own work; she felt as if a fish might feel had he been asked to talk about the water surrounding him. When asked to make a blanket statement about my work or to answer the question “What is your work about?” I say that my work is about a sensibility. Each individual piece may have its own story or anecdote, but I prefer to think of my work as a kind of reflection or embodiment of words and forms I hold dear. As I work, I often think of a few words. My list is ongoing, but it starts as follows: elegant, clumsy, awkward, poetic, musical, whimsical, restrained, staid, limited, pure, necessary, honest, flawed, mortal, delicate, luminous. I am drawn to work that I describe with these words,
those that satisfy my appetite as a viewer and encourage me as an artist. As an equal and parallel line of thought, I have a list of forms to use. These forms come from a mental collection, which I have sorted, edited and added to over the course of several years. My use of this collection has changed over time, and lately I have been most interested in juxtaposing forms of varying character. Larger, solid forms have a blunter, more macho quality and I like to see how they converse with forms that are delicate, particulate, and weak. I approach color with the same goal; I limit my palette and deliberate over the character each color can embody. Beyond ruminating over these words, forms, and qualities, I use my work as a way to stretch my mind. I always work additively, both with abandon and with great care. Because I work on paper and therefore can be relatively productive, and because I feel confident with the techniques I use, I make my studio practice
into a kind of game designed to probe the limits of my imagination and aesthetic. I make mistakes and inappropriate choices; I try to work myself into a corner so that I will be forced to make new decisions. As I look at my current work, I find that it has as much to do with drawing as it does with printmaking. It uses inks, printmaking papers and a press, but the imagery is informed by the vocabulary of drawing. I make one-of-a-kind works, without the responsibility of the multiple, and this has led me to explore and enjoy non-repeatable marks and processes. I have been asked why I don’t also draw. Whatever appetite I have for drawing is satisfied in the print shop. I find that I need the built-in delay of printmaking in order to collect my thoughts, react to my imagery, and invite the dilemmas, static, and jazz specific to the medium.