From cloth printing in ancient China and Egypt, to woodcuts in 14th century Europe, and later silk screening and lithography, even as the art of printmaking evolved, many artists remained steeped in traditional techniques.
Printmaker Gus Mazzocca ’65 (SFA), ’66 (CLAS), professor emeritus of art, is among the artists who have found ways to utilize new techniques and technologies in his creations.
And over his four decades as an artist and teacher at the University, Mazzocca encouraged his students to do the same.
A multisite retrospective of his work, “Gus Mazzocca: 4 Decades/4 Generations,” celebrates his legacy as a printmaker, artist, mentor, and professor, and also includes works by four of his former students at UConn, representing each decade of his career.
The exhibition is hosted by The Contemporary Art Galleries (CAG), and includes a monograph exhibition of Mazzocca’s works at the CAG as well as a group exhibition at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts. The group exhibition features works by Michael Maslin ’76 (SFA), longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker; Aron Namenwirth ’87 (SFA), a professional artist, painter, and musician in New York City; Tyler Starr ’97 (SFA), assistant professor of studio art at Davidson College in North Carolina; and Kristi Arnold ’05 MFA, now a doctoral candidate at the College of the Arts at the University of Sydney in Australia.
Mazzocca also was instrumental in developing the Department of Art and Art History, from the time he returned to Storrs in 1970 as a professor after receiving an MFA in painting and printmaking from The Rhode Island School of Design. He had earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and in painting at UConn.
“He’s responsible for so much of what the department is today,” says interim department head Anne D’Alleva, an associate professor of art history and women’s studies. “What’s so incredible when I look at his career is the way he was so forward thinking. He was initiating relationships with international artists and with the art academy in Krakow, Poland, before many others were doing this in higher education. He’s always been been committed to bringing students out into the world, but also bringing the world here.”
Mazzocca is one of the founders of Interprint, a co-operative project between five art institutions in the United States, Ireland, Poland, England, and the Netherlands that began in 1998. Interprint brought together students and faculty from different cultures and printmaking traditions to share ideas and collaborate. UConn hosted the group symposium in 2003, and today there are 14 institutions participating.
“It’s been a great experience reaching out to colleagues in the ’80s and ’90s in the Netherlands, Germany, and Poland,” Mazzocca says. “[Printmaking] is such a democratic medium. It travels nicely. You could work big, work small; roll them up in your pocket. That’s a language that is very global.”
CAG curator Barry Rosenberg says the portability and affordability of printmaking to consumers is what helps to make it such a democratic art form.
“There are social and economic issues in the reproduction of prints – it’s art for the people,” Rosenberg says. “That’s something Gus has always been concerned with, the audience you’re working for.”
D’Alleva says that Mazzocca is passionate about continuing the craft of printmaking by passing it down to future generations of artists so it can be incorporated with new technologies.
“It’s a wonderful attitude to bring to students, especially today as technologies are evolving so quickly,” she says. “Who knows what technologies will be available in 10 or 15 years to our art students. When a teacher has that mindset, and this incredible openness and willingness to experiment and engage the world, students will be ready for whatever those technologies are. Gus has the range and mastery to use these different techniques to produce the work that he wants to produce. That’s what so critically important about what he brings to the classroom. He’s able to teach students the highest level of craftsmanship and the highest level of conceptual practice as an artist.”
Mazzocca’s use of classic printmaking and 21st-century digital technology is evident in many of the works included in the retrospective, including self-portraits that display his humor as well as the artistic mastery of his craft.
Says Rosenberg: “Look at his work and you see issues of expressionism and cubism and space that are there. But at the same time he loads it with digital work and experimentation. Gus is really good carrying on in a career that is consistent, grows, and changes within the borders of his aesthetic understanding of what is important.”
Mazzocca says his passion for print media and the flexibility of working with its traditional techniques helped in easily using new technologies in his work as they became available.
“It is the wonderful richness of the print medium that allowed me to do these kinds of things,” he says. “There’s offset printing, handwork, layering here. There were no holds barred with the kinds of things I could do. I loved using my self-image, because I could poke fun of myself.”
His former students agree that the printmaker was able to pass along a passion for the medium they could embrace and work within to create their own artistic vision.
“Gus’s belief in the sanctity of ink printed on paper and its democratic role throughout history inspired me to approach printmaking with reverence,” says Starr, who is now teaching in North Carolina and whose work is on display at Jorgensen Gallery. “He cultivated an exciting community of devoted students working the presses into the wee hours of the night. He imbued us with the uncompromising goal of seeking out inspired imagery to be urgently realized in the form of prints. I could sum up the philosophy that I gained from him as: no time to lose, pick the right plank of wood, cut with conviction, and keep the Band-Aids handy.”
With Mazzocca’s encouragement, Arnold, another former student whose work is on display in Jorgensen Gallery, won a Fulbright Fellowship that allowed her to follow her mentor’s path to Poland to study printmaking techniques in Europe.
“Professor Mazzocca is a unique mentor; unique in the sense that he genuinely cares for his student, makes an effort to build a professional relationship with that student, and will take time out of his schedule to help any student out,” says Arnold, now a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Sydney. “The fact that Gus had a background in painting also appealed to me, as I too entered the school as a painter. I found an affinity with his color palette, unrestrained and playful sensibility, and gestural approach to woodcuts. He also introduced me to the legacy of Polish printmaking, which sparked a curiosity and passion for their culture and arts. I am forever indebted to Gus for his guidance and friendship.”
“Gus Mazzocca: 4 Decades/4 Generations,” continues at The Contemporary Art Galleries through March 1, and through March 15 at the Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts.