You’ve heard me say that working on the BMA’s print fair was the most fun part of the job. So many wonderful people came to the museum—joined by a shared love of prints and printmaking—to sell work to an eager and well-informed audience. One of the people I have kept an eye on since I met her in 2017 when she came as part of the Flatbed Press team, is Annalise Gratovitch. Not only was she there as one of Flatbed’s printers (along with founder Katherine Brimberry and Mike Brimberry), but also, Flatbed was showing several of her monumental woodcuts from Carrying Things from Home series.
These woodcuts are nearly six feet tall and feature a single character standing fully center, like an icon on a prayer or tarot card. More accurately, they are modeled after matryoshka, those stacking/nesting Russian dolls, an effect that generalizes rather than specifies any one person. But it seems clear that Annalise’s Ukranian heritage is at play. Her grandparents were one of many families to leave their homes with only what they could carry during World War II. Annalise tells of their survival by busking with an accordion and bartering for whatever goods would help keep them fed and clothed. What makes a home? Is it a place or a feeling? How many of us have a migration story in our history?
Each of the six figures holds an object and wears clothes that help us understand their role: the mariner cradles a whale, the hunter holds a hare and has a fox on their shoulders and a bear at their feet, the musician plays an accordion, the builder holds a bird (notice the headdress is a bird’s nest), the mother holds a child, and the undertaker carries a tiny, simple coffin. Any areas of color you see are pieces of hand-dyed mulberry paper that have been added by the method of chine collé, which means the colored pieces are laid on the inked block and glued down simultaneously as it goes through the press. By the way, Annalise plans for the series to consist of eight prints—only six have been completed thus far. The final two will be The Healer and The Fool. Can’t wait to see them.
When you are compelled to leave your physical home behind, what do you bring with you? What is it that defines your sense of self and purpose? How do you maintain a sense of connection to home? Annalise says of her work: “My work explores themes of displacement, self and cultural identity, intention and accountability, as well as burden and regret.” For me, the two most recent prints, the mother and undertaker characters, point directly at our worldwide refugee problem. There is certainly fear and sorrow in these figures, but also a noble strength and sense of purpose. Life is complicated and family is what you decide it is. I love these prints as straightforward portrayals of strength and fortitude. Honest and direct, their stylized presentation only adds to their accessibility. The images pull you in as wonderfully graphic representations of stalwart and hardworking people, and then their circumstances and lot in life become apparent. Certainly, the scale of the works adds to their power. Sometimes more is more.
I’ve been meaning to write about these woodcuts for a while, but now there is a compelling reason to bring them to your attention. Annalise, who works tirelessly on her own work and in various roles within the wider print community, needs our help. She has been battling a rather nasty and debilitating autoimmune disease for the last year and a half. All in the middle of this pandemic when hospitals are overwhelmed with those sick with Covid and turning away patients with other types of illnesses.
Annalise has been able to work only intermittently, and the medical costs have been mounting. I am sure asking for help is the last thing she’s like to do, but here we are. A GoFundMe campaign has been organized by a dear friend, Hannah Neal, who reports: “Annalise’s financial burden is massive. She is largely unable to work and has run out of paid leave. Between medical expenses not covered by insurance, studio rental, and lost wages, her total to date is $37,401, and the costs continue to mount every day.”
Imagine being a strong, healthy printmaker unable to do the thing you feel compelled to do. Artists must create art; it’s not negotiable. Imagine being unable to work, out of paid leave, and running out of treatment options. Annalise has things to say through her work (including the final two woodcuts from this series yet to be completed) and deserves our every effort to ensure she is back at it as soon as possible. Please consider donating in support of a fellow creative who really needs our help now more than ever. Any amount is a huge help. The GoFundMe page is here. One could also buy a print from her. Just sayin’.
Ann's art blog
A small corner of the interwebs to share thoughts on objects I acquired for the Baltimore Museum of Art's collection, research I've done on Stanley William Hayter and Atelier 17, experiments in intaglio printmaking, and the Baltimore Contemporary Print Fair.