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Fit to Print
By Pam Berrett-Fender

Dan Welden Retrospective: 65 Works on Paper
Opalka Gallery, through Dec. 19

2D or not 2D: Dan Welden's Vessel.

Dan Welden is an artist with all the credentials of a master printmaker, and the heart of a modern painter. Known to many as teacher, technician and innovator of the now widely used technique of solarplate printmaking, Weldon is also a well-established and prolific print artist with a strong penchant for painterly expression.

The 65 works on paper on display at the Sage College’s Opalka Gallery are a testament to Welden’s mastery of his craft. It is clear that the artist has internalized the methods of printmaking, the way it’s clear that a dancer can walk. It’s second nature to him. But this exhibit speaks more of his visceral relationship to his materials and of a primal urge to make marks. It speaks of his love of process over procedure, experience over statement, surface over space.

Welden employs countless combinations of printmaking techniques (including woodcut/monoprint, solarplate and collograph), along with the direct application of pigment, to create his abstract images. He specializes in creating earthy, fleshy fields of subtle color, punctuated by moody lines and patches of bold color.

While many of his titles affirm the obvious references to landscape (Peruvian switchbacks, Santa Barbara Morning, and Canyon #152, for example), his textured surfaces remain firmly vertical, in my eye. They are architectural and mechanical forms, frantic, unfinished buildings and bridges. They are membranous structures, vulnerable to the artist’s incision and abrasion of their surfaces. They are rocky walls, circus tightropes and punctured skies.

But this artist seems to be more interested in the beauty of a mark than in the definition of form. He relishes the way edges meet, the way a line moves through a field of creamy pigment, the organic overlaying of ink or paint over boundaries, the luminosity of layered translucent brushstrokes. These 65 Works on Paper are maps of Dan Welden’s artistic impulses, a record of his journey, and an invitation for us to follow the path of his hand.

Weldon’s impulses, however delicious, in the end lead to very few surprises. His movements are so consistent that they begin to feel comfortable, predictable. In viewing this show, I began to feel overwhelmed, not by a complexity or disparity of information, but by the rigid similarities between the pieces. It left me thinking about how slyly intuition and habit mingle.

Considering his range of media and the eight-year time span represented in this exhibit (1995-2003), Welden presents a remarkably homogenous body of work, a feature highlighted by its tight-fitting installation. Sixty-five is a lot of Dan Welden prints, even for display in the pristine environment of the Opalka Gallery. These pieces long to be seen in smaller groups, with more space around them.

Aside from the crowding, though, the show is well-paced and visually balanced, with keenly placed groupings. I don’t think 65 works on paper could look better in the Opalka Gallery, but I don’t think 65 is the magic number.

Originally, 65 Works on Paper was scheduled to close Dec. 12, but will now run through Dec. 19, giving audiences an extra week of opportunity to see Dan Welden’s work.

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