Heather Halpern is, among other things, an unusually neat and tidy artist. Walk into Whiteaker Printmakers, the public studio she’s begun down near Second and Polk, and you’re startled by the lack of grime and chaos. This might be a hospital operating theater or the garage at a Formula One road race. Nothing is out of place, or dirty, or dangerous looking.
The prints and pastels Halpern is showing this month at Tim Boyden’s Out on a Limb gallery downtown have a similar quality, in which deep and possibly dark emotions are channeled into a crisp, clean expression.
Her exhibit at the tiny gallery fills one wall, with pictures hung salon style, and it takes some discipline to look at each individual work. It’s worth the effort.
My favorite works in the show are the large and the small. Halpern has a big monotype that shows a glowering scene from Fern Ridge Reservoir near town; it’s loose and dark and dreamy, with the dead black brooding silhouettes of ferns forming the foundation for a more typical image above of a waterway, reeds and distant trees and sky.
A much smaller print is titled “Insistent’; it shows a pair of flower blossoms in monochrome against a dark background.
In her artist statement for the show, Halpern notes that her recent work grows out of pain and grief. In the past she’s gone through the serious illnesses of friends and family members. Suffering isn’t obvious is any of these works; rather, it’s been sublimated into complex and satisfying forms of expression.
Halpern, 45, has been an artist all her life. “I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon,” she says. She grew up around Redding, California, in a household with artistic parents and grandparents. “My dad was an artist,” she says. “His dad was an artist. And his grandmother was an artist.”
She studied drawing and painting at a series of community colleges in California before coming here with her husband in 2004. Since then, she’s also studied painting with Adam Grosowsky and printmaking with Susan Lowdermilk, Tallmadge Doyle and Margaret Prentice.
Printmaking came late in her career. “Through all these years of art education, that was one area I hadn’t explored,” she says.
As she got into printmaking in recent years, she needed a studio to work in. Her husband had commandeered the garage at their Eugene home for his woodworking equipment, so she couldn’t work there. And as she was looking around for space to rent, it occurred to her that a lot of other printmakers in town also needed a place to work.
Why not do it together?
When Halpern found a space to rent near the corner of Second Avenue and Polk Street, Whiteaker Printmakers was born.
Now a private business (though she has plans to create a non-profit), WhitPrint, as the studio is commonly called, has a dozen members who pay dues of $90 a month (the price is $80 if you commit to six months) for the right to work in the 2,400-square-foot immaculately clean and tidy studio that opened on April 15.
Whitprint offers classes and workshops as well as equipment and space for such processes as etching, woodcut, monotype, collagraph, screenprint and even letterpress. The studio even has an enormous press capable of printing woodcuts from 4-by-8-foot sheets of plywood, and will be hosting a Big Ink event on June 4-5.
For more information about the studio, check out WhitPrint.com.