Norman Akers, Alien Onslaught, 2021, Monoprint. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Our memories and stories are often constructed of shifting layers and fragments that we continuously rearrange, meld and edit. The two artists whose exhibitions open at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum in September use a number of printmaking techniques to visualize their own stories, memories and outlooks in ways that reflect the often jumbled, hazy or half-hidden thoughts that swirl through the mind.
While the default assumption is that the printmaking process results in multiple identical objects, Norman Akers and Heinrich Toh both work primarily in monotype, so each print is a unique item. This process allows the artists to recombine imagery and explore small variations in the overall composition.
Norman Akers, Associate Professor of Art at the University of Kansas, draws deeply on his cultural and personal heritage as a member of the Osage Nation in his art making. His prints combine contemporary cultural images, historical figures and traditional imagery into compositions layered over fractured images of maps. The faces of American presidents peek out of spaceships seeming to fly among animals and crushed water bottles, reminding the viewer that the history of America and our modern uses of the land can be viewed as invasive when looking at the long history of the land and its earlier inhabitants.
Aker’s fascination with maps began in childhood because “they were complex symbols for places I had yet to know.” Because maps can reflect the physical characteristics of a place, the historical pathways that cross a landscape or the artificial and political boundaries imposed on the land, Akers is able to create conversations about how people and places interact. Modern issues of immigration and environmental concerns are placed into these contemporary and historical contexts.
Singapore-born Heinrich Toh uses his printmaking practice to create bridges between the past and present, bygone memories and current surroundings. Brightly colored objects like flowers and lanterns float and overlap with geometric shapes and vintage photographs to form dreamlike compositions that emphasize light and color. The sense of illumination created by Toh evokes the delicate shapes and colors and echoes the luminous objects that he worked with in his earlier training as a glass blower.
The translucent qualities created in many of Toh’s works emphasize the way that memories can blur and fade while also allowing him to hold onto the past by fixing it onto paper. The artist explains, “Memories are fleeting with the ongoing assimilation to my immediate environment.” This tension that immigrants can often experience between old and new homes is captured in these prints.
Norman Akers: Constructed Places: Works on Paper and Heinrich Toh: Never As It Was are on view at the Albrecht-Kemper Museum of Art in St. Joseph Sept. 17 through Nov. 6.
Financial assistance provided by the St. Joseph, Missouri Visitors Bureau.