john willis - print retrospective & collection

West & TDP Galleries: October 28 – December 3, 2022

Opening Reception: Friday, October 28, 6:00 – 8:00 pm

Virtual Artist Talk: Friday, November 18 , 6:30 pm

Exhibition Statement


         This retrospective was inspired by three different aspects of my involvement with prints. It began in the 1980s when I moved to Connecticut as a young artist. At the time I was primarily a sculptor. The only printmaking I had done was a few relief prints in high school. In the process of moving to Hartford I found myself visiting a professional art expo on one of the piers in Chicago. As I browsed the expo with friends, I came upon a booth run by Tamarind Institute full of contemporary prints. It was fascinating. Little did I know then that prints were to become a central part of my life and art. At the time I had very little extra money, but the director, Marjorie Devon, convinced me to put down $300 and become a member of the Tamarind Collectors Club, and that was the start of my love and life with prints.


            After living in a 2600 square feet loft in the Colt building making sculptures and banging around in different jobs, I landed a part time job in the Fall of 1988 as the print technician in the Print Department at the Hartford Art School. I was still primarily making sculptures, but I could feel the pull of the discipline of prints starting to take over. Over several years I finished my BFA and MFA degrees in Printmaking at Hartford Art School (HAS). I then started to teach and became one of the printers for the Hartford Art School Print Workshop, which is a professional print program.


            Being an assistant or the main printer for the workshop brought a whole new insight into the world of prints. You’re not the artist or collector; your job is to enable other artists to make the best prints they possibly can. You must leave your aesthetics behind and understand the artist's vision. Master printer Maurice Sanchez taught me that, “you tell the artists to do whatever they need to do, and you will figure out how to print it.” Out of my experiences as the printer for other artists I’ve learned new techniques and awareness of how artists think about executing their vision. This part of my print world has enriched my own print work and my love of prints.


            My own printmaking seriously started in 1989 when I took a relief class taught at HAS by Professor Jim Lee. After taking more classes at HAS I subsequently established my print studio in 1995, which I still maintain. In 1995 I bought my first Vandercook proofing press, which allowed me to make monotypes and relief prints, using an accurate registration system. As I moved forward, I started to combine relief and monotype, which allowed me to make variant monoprint editions. Five years later I bought a Dufa flatbed offset press, which has a much larger format than the Vandercook press, and an even more accurate registration system. The Dufa press also lets me raise and lower both the plate bed and printing bed, which in turn allows for incredibly subtle layering of colors. The increase in sensitivity and larger format gave me the freedom that I was looking for. As my work progressed, I made a move that took me back to my sculptor days. I started to print additional sheets of color and used extra proofs to add new shapes to the prints. For further information about my practice please refer to my artist statement.


The work on display at Five Points Gallery represents of selection of prints reflecting three facets of my immersion into printmaking: artist printmaker, printer for other artists, and collector of prints. Each of these activities has helped shape my engagement with, understanding of, and appreciation for the unique domain of printmaking. I hope the exhibition of work from each of these areas provides viewers with insight into the investigations of one individual artist finding an aesthetic pathway through the medium, as well as a broader representation of the diversity and range of contemporary printmaking.