Thursday, February 22, 2018
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High aim pays off for USF's Graphicstudio

TAMPA — Graphicstudio is probably not a household name unless your household is arts-oriented. It's an atelier, or print shop, at the University of South Florida. But it's not a typical atelier. It is probably even the only one of its kind in the United States.

It was founded in 1968 by Donald Saff, now a distinguished professor emeritus. It immediately began attracting first-class artists because of its willingness to push the boundaries of printmaking, expanding to include multiple editions of sculptures along with prints. It has invented techniques such as a way to print encaustic waxes developed for Roy Lichtenstein and a computer program that allowed metal sheets to be cut by a water jet to make the frothy edge desired by Teresita Fernandez. It has reinvigorated old methods, too, such as photogravure and cyanotype.

About 150 artists have participated in the program, a roll call of contemporary artists that includes venerables Robert Rauschenberg, Chuck Close, Robert Mapplethorpe, William Wegman, James Rosenquist, Jim Dine, John Chamberlain and Louise Bourgeois and younger artists such as Los Carpinteros..

For many years, Graphicstudio worked mostly on a subscription structure in which artists created a portfolio or edition to be offered for sale, at a lower price, to a small group of subscribers who paid a fee for the right of first refusal. Others would be sold on the open market, and the artist and Graphicstudio also kept several.

It often operated in the red, supported by the university until 2001 when budget constraints began looming. To streamline operations, the studio, USF's Contemporary Art Museum and its public arts program were put under the umbrella of the new Institute for Research in Art, and Margaret Miller, a longtime professor and then director of the museum, became the IRA's director.

During her tenure, Miller has synergized the three entities she oversees with multiple applications for creating and exhibiting art, engaging with students and faculty and advancing technical research. She has been strategic in choosing a mix of well-known artists with a proven market and emerging ones who do not yet have a marquee name. The emphasis is always on "letting an artist do something they haven't been able to do," Miller says. "I try to pick artists who have an interesting idea for collaboration, then expand something new technically."

The atelier is in constant use, creating both subscription editions and those that will go directly to market. Graphicstudio keeps 50 percent of the sales. Works created at Graphicstudio are in the permanent collections of museums such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the National Gallery in Washington and are frequently lent to national and international exhibitions.

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