Carve It Deep

Gretchen Schermerhorn, 31, has opinions on everything, from the exploitation of women to animal abuse to globalization, and her art reflects her political leanings subtly and with humor. She won't get in your face, but she will make you think. Her prints stimulate conversation, allowing her to poke fun at politics and very serious issues. Whether her prints are protesting Tom DeLay's recent visit to South Pacific sweatshops or the mistreatment of sheep in the Netherlands, one thing is clear: This small-town girl, originally from Argyle, Texas, understands two of society's most difficult concepts: satire and world politics.

Hanging with the alter ego: For several years, my work has depicted an alter ego. The character I've created is sort of a doppelganger, but not a hero. I think the role of my alter ego is not only to say something; I want her to question things. She provides this vehicle for social commentary and, frankly, issues I sort of ride the fence on. I thought it would be fun to be this kind of superhero -- but she's not really a superhero, because she's sometimes very common and doing regular things. She's kind of who I want to be, but I'm a little scared to be.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. I was an art education major to begin with in college, and I took a couple of printmaking classes because they were on my degree plan. I just fell in love with it immediately. I loved the process; I loved the way it looked. I loved the idea of repetition. The next semester I decided to go into studio art. Much to my parents' dismay.

The art of the print: It's a complicated process, but basically when you're printmaking you have to have a matrix, something that is always repeatable. A matrix is an idea that is repeatable. You have to have a matrix and a substrate -- the substrate is almost always the paper. There are different kinds of printmaking -- screen printing, etching . . . am I losing you yet? Sometimes I see people's eyes glazing over.

Paper girl: In graduate school I made my garments exclusively out of homemade paper. Making paper sounds like kind of fun and crafty, but it's actually very time-consuming. One thing I found interesting, as a kid, was if I left money in my pocket and washed it, the money wouldn't fall apart. I'd leave other paper in my pocket and it would get all wadded up and stuck together, but your dollar bills won't do that. I learned that it's because your dollar bills are made out of a percentage of linen and cotton, so money has a similarity to material. I thought, maybe I can make garments out of the same content of cotton and linen that money is made out of. I liked the idea that it's paper so it can deteriorate.

It's (more than) a day job. Five or six of us, through a juried process, are chosen to go to Tempe elementary schools and present a lecture about what it's like to be an artist and then do a hands-on experience with the kids. For a lot of them, that's the most art they get, because of a lot of [budget] cuts. And with little kids, a magician might as well walk in, because an artist, to them, is pretty cool.

On imperfection: [To make the print] you roll your ink over the top of the matrix and slap your paper on. Then you run it through a press or hand-print it. That's what gives it its texture. These [gaps in the print] are called trash marks. A lot of times people won't like the way they look, because they look kind of like you just didn't carve it deep enough. But I love those.

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Megan Irwin
Contact: Megan Irwin