On Feb. 25, Honolulu Printmakers, which call the Honolulu Museum of Art School home, kick off their 87th annual exhibition. This year, visiting jurors Sonnenzimmer will judge the flurry of hopeful submissions from across the state. Sonnenzimmer is the studio name of the accomplished mixed-media artists Nadine Nakanishi and Nick Butcher, who live and work in Chicago. Prior to their arrival in the islands—and escape from the Midwest winter—they took some time to discuss their burgeoning relationship with Honolulu Printmakers, hopes for the exhibition, and plans for a group project during their visit. With over two feet of snow on the streets of Chicago at the time of the email exchange, Nadine stated that “your greeting of ‘Aloha’ rings warmth into the room,” just what we would hope to bring Sonnenzimmer, whose name turns out to mean “sunroom” in German. More of this mutual enlightenment followed.
How did you come to be this year’s jurors for the Honolulu Printmakers Annual Exhibition? Is the relationship a new one or are there deeper ties to the organization?
Something really amazing happened. The day after we moved into our new studio space, knee deep in eight years’ worth of prints, art supplies, and office blah, we had a strange inquiry via email from Travis Sasaki, a member at Honolulu Printmakers. Now, I [Nick] was more skeptical than Nadine about moving into this new studio space—higher rent, less space—but getting an email asking us to visit Hawai‘i to judge a print competition seemed completely unreal, maybe even a mistake? But, once it sank in and we agreed to this amazing opportunity, it marked a shift in my mind that somehow our very cross-disciplinary studio was somehow on the right track. So, while our relationship with Duncan Dempster and the Honolulu Printmakers is new, it will go down as a pivotally positive moment in our trajectory as artists. So in that sense it’s deep already. We can’t wait to actually get there, meet everyone and see all the work. It’s especially sweet to leave Chicago in February.
You have referred to your studio’s existence as “elastic” since you work with a wide range of media to produce diverse images. How integral has printmaking been to your beginnings, ongoing life, and development?
Printmaking, screen-printing specifically, has been a definitive part of our studio from day one. Our jumping-off point with the medium as a collaborative tool was screen-printing posters for local rock, jazz, and new music groups. Since then, our studio has orbited around the graphic arts in many ways; designing publications, designing typefaces, making fine art prints, screen printing textiles. We are a print shop at heart, with an art arm and a design arm, The two are connected through our love for printed matter. We’re as inspired by commercial printing as we are by fine-art printing; the two have always been connected and we revel in this murky area between them.
In light of your emphasis on the history of printmaking, what does it mean for you to be involved with Honolulu Printmakers, which has such a rich history?
We are humbled to be considered worthy of jurying this exhibit. Our practice may be considered to be somewhat disconnected from traditional printmaking by some, as a large portion of our work is commissioned-based, but we feel deeply connected to the history of print and its burgeoning future. For us, the fact that Honolulu Printmakers have reached out to an art practice such as ours speaks to their open-minded and inclusive take on printmaking. So, while rooted in rich history, we are inspired by their vision to keep the community dynamic and engaged in contemporary avenues of print. That kind of scope is powerful.
Can you say more about what you will be looking for from entries? In what ways do you hope to be surprised?
Having only limited formal training in printmaking, we are equally as impressed with technical rigor as we are with sheer spirit. Our studio has a certain brand of scrappiness to it, a penchant for experimentation, and a love of formalism. So these are always qualities we are attracted to in other’s work. The spirit shines through. But at the same time, we are suckers for process and risky technical feats. All in all, we are hoping to see a huge range of work, and hope to set aside our immediate personal taste to produce an exhibition that best reflects the breadth of work submitted—though we are excited to find our favorites.
Printmaking, much like (or even more than) many other art forms, thrives within a collaborative community. Coming as jurors from Chicago to Hawai‘i’s printmaking community, are there any added regional dynamics to consider going into this?
We are thrilled to be exposed to a new community of printmakers. Chicago is a print-friendly town from its legacy in the commercial graphic realm to its contemporary comics scene to the large number of poster artists like ourselves and letterpress printers. Print is thriving here. Hard work and humility define the Midwestern mindset, and the work reflects this attitude in its friendly but cool and collected aesthetic. We are quite curious to see what kind of work is thriving in Hawai‘i at the moment amidst the community of printmakers.
What went into the process of generating the event poster? How did the Hawaiian patterns that ended up in the periphery come about?
Producing a poster for an event in Hawai‘i in December in Chicago is a strange task. We wanted the poster to reflect that sunny feeling we got when the email asking us to juror first landed in our inbox. The Hawaiian pattern was quite honestly accidental. We had originally intended to make a sort of mythological map for the poster, and had brought in island forms as a starting point. Before we knew it we had abandoned that concept for a more visceral and immediate reference to our paper speaker workshop we’ll be leading. When we chose to include all three iterations of the poster design into the new design itself, the forms we’d thought of as islands revealed an image strikingly close to a Hawaiian pattern. We then chose to incorporate that back into the center of the image. Our design work can shift from total intuition to rigid systematics in the drop of a hat. This one was quite intuitive.
Can you talk about the paper speaker “sound collage” group project to be done in Hawai‘i that the poster references? What is it and who will be involved in that?
Recently, we’ve been exposed to some amazing innovations in lo-fi DIY electronics. One is the production of paper speakers made from fairly simple materials: copper foil tape, magnets, speaker wire, and an amplified audio signal. Combine these elements and you have a singing piece of paper fairly quickly. With the workshop, we’ll be producing a series of these paper speakers with workshop participants. In addition to the designs created with the copper tape, participants will screen print imagery on top to produce a hybrid speaker/print that will be displayed in a gallery setting. Participants will also be responsible for capturing live field recordings throughout the workshop, which will be edited into a group sound collage to be played through the speakers.
Any other exciting features of Hawai‘i and its art scene you are excited about seeing and engaging with?
To be honest, we are so excited to just have the opportunity to be in such a special place around so much print work that we’ve barely even thought about what else we’ll be doing, besides surfing, of course. Though I’m sure we’ll stumble onto some amazing things. A question for you! What should we check out!?