It’s a sunny day in the light-filled Northwest Fort Collins suburban studio of Johanna Mueller. It’s a beautifully clean and cheery space making it easy why she hasn’t given it up after taking on a new studio and home renovation project in Greeley last year. After three weeks at the Jentel Foundation Artist Residency in Wyoming, Mueller was able to really dig into work and create a large number of plates. Unlike many traditional relief printers who work in wood, Mueller prefers carving a High Impact Polystyrene that can hold up to the immense pressure of the press yielding printed editions that hold details much better than wood over time. Her process, which can take up to an hour to carve a square inch, is immensely detailed and time consuming creating a very intimate relationship between artists and plate.
Much of Mueller’s work explores human relationships with Northern American animals. Although we as humans often project our emotions and expression onto the animals around us, Mueller works within the framework that animals are very good at being themselves, but likes to play within the many facets of how printmaking, narrative and animal representation intersect.
Mueller’s earlier works fell within the very traditional presentations of 2d multiple editions, but her transition to PVC as a substrate has opened u new possibilities where she is moving away from the confines of the block to free form shapes. This transition has erupted into a collection of over 100 plates that serve as building blocks for her newer work. Much like words, the individual carvings become elements that she prints and collages together to create visual sentences, poems, and narratives. “Once you have all the parts and pieces and know the rules, then you’re able to take all those parts and pieces and break them in all sorts of fabulous ways.” Inspired by artists Kiki Smith and Beth Kebner, Mueller also deals with the delicacy of the animal form. Her carvings bring forth rich detailed carvings that recall our vast history of animal myth and perception both in lost and modern culture.
Whether she is exploring more person connections she feels between canines and deer or expanding beyond into more mystical themes such as Ravens and their prominence as tethers to other worlds, Mueller’s work seeks to take the viewer on the beginning of a journey. Working within printmaking’s narrative structure, Mueller’s more recent works use a collage of the multiple to create pattern and emphasis, drawing out ideology while allowing the viewer to fill in the blanks with their own personal stories and background. It is within this construction where Mueller believes the transitional magic of the print comes to life. Unlike other mediums such as painting or drawing, printmaking is a process orientated medium with a dynamic moment of conclusion. You place all this energy in carving and preparing, and then you place your creation on a blank piece of paper and run it through the press, and as you separate the two, you are left with this amazing transition where a simple piece of paper in a matter of moments has become something to treasure.
It is within this magic where Mueller’s two show emerges. Paths and Passages will be on display in Greeley through April 27th. This body of work takes the viewer on a visual journey, setting the stage with characters but allowing the viewer to complete the narrative. In Chimerical, Mueller’s solo show at the Valkyrie Gallery in Denver, Mueller showcases work that is more whimsical in nature, playing with animal creations where myth and reality play in the creation of figures and elements you wish were real. And finally, if you’d like to see her in action, she is a participant in the Denver Art Museum’s series on printmakers and you can see her live.