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At USF, a hidden gem of a print studio

USF’s Graphicstudio has collaborated with some of the country’s most famous artists.
 
Artist Mark Thomas Gibson discusses a print with Margaret Miller, director of Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
Artist Mark Thomas Gibson discusses a print with Margaret Miller, director of Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]
Published April 16, 2023

In an unassuming building next to the University of South Florida’s Tampa campus, a small sign says: GRAPHICSTUDIO. Open the door, and you’ll see rooms full of prints, photos, collages and sculptures. Here, a print by Robert Rauschenberg, the late great contemporary artist. There, a photo by Robert Mapplethorpe, famed for his provocative portraits. On display, a Diana Al-Hadid sculpture.

This Robert Rauschenberg print, "Pink Window,'' was made at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
This Robert Rauschenberg print, "Pink Window,'' was made at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]
This Robert Rauschenberg print, "Tibetan Garden Song,'' was made at Grahicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
This Robert Rauschenberg print, "Tibetan Garden Song,'' was made at Grahicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]

It quickly becomes obvious that this is not just another classroom or administrative office. It is the home of an actual “atelier,” or printmaking studio, one of the most renowned on an American university campus. This is where printers make limited editions of artworks, display them and sell them around the world.

Opened in 1968, Graphicstudio was the brainchild of Dr. Donald Saff, then dean of the College of Fine Arts. The idea: create a space where artists, printers and fabricators could collaborate on projects, share ideas and experiment with techniques. Since its inception, the studio has worked with about 100 contemporary artists — both world-renowned and emerging on the art scene — and produced more than 1,000 limited editions and objects.

Collaboration remains the studio’s driving force. “Artists are encouraged to expand their practice and use printmaking to make art that is experimental and transgressive,” said Margaret Miller, the studio’s director since 2001.

On the credenza in Miller’s office is a small sculpture of a spider and web. It is the work of Louise Bourgeois, known for her enormous spider sculptures that soar above building fronts around the world. “Spider Home,” the piece Miller has, was among an edition of six that Bourgeois created with the Graphicstudio team in 2002. The sculptures were priced at $125,000 on their release — one recently sold for $300,000. (Miller said most artworks are available for well under $5,000 and some for a few hundred dollars.)

Jason Middlebrook's "My Banyan Branch, done in 2019 at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is a screenprint and handpainting on Banyon wood. The unique sculpture is $30,000.
Jason Middlebrook's "My Banyan Branch, done in 2019 at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa, is a screenprint and handpainting on Banyon wood. The unique sculpture is $30,000. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]

Rauschenberg, who lived in Florida, began working with Graphicstudio at its start. Other famous artists in its roster include Chuck Close, Judy Chicago, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha and Kiki Smith.

Miller’s job is extensive. In addition to managing the studio, she finds the artists to collaborate with, gives presentations about collecting art, serves as director and curator of USF’s Contemporary Art Museum and also directs its Institute for Research and Public Art program. She is especially interested in getting art out into the community.

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Public art — murals, interactives videos and other forms meant for public view — “engage people in an experience who might never visit a museum,” Miller said. One example is “Florida Sunset,” a large mosaic at Tampa International Airport created by New York multimedia artist Jason Middlebrook. Although he did the mosaic independently, he has worked with Graphicstudio on other pieces.

Miller travels widely, visiting exhibitions, galleries and events like the Venice Biennale and Art Basel Miami Beach to look for emerging artists. She does her own research to find good candidates, and selects artists based on where they are in their careers. Can Graphicstudio help expand their practice? Can it give them the opportunity to experiment in a medium they are not used to?

Artists chosen to collaborate with the Graphicstudio team are required to be in residence at the studio for a specified period so they can work with the printers directly. This allows the artists and the team to experiment with both familiar and unfamiliar mediums. For example, an artist might want to print on a material other than paper, add objects to the prints, combine various techniques or even depart from the usual medium and try something different like sculpture.

Tom Pruitt is Graphicstudio’s master printer and studio manager. There are five other printers, all of whom are capable of not only making limited print editions, but also incorporating 3D elements into the prints. Graphicstudio is currently printing artwork by Alex Katz, who just had a retrospective exhibition at Manhattan’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. Katz, in his 90s, came to Florida to work with Pruitt’s team on two prints: “Tree 8,” a wood cut and lithograph, and “Tree 10,” both in editions of 60.

Artist Alex Katz did this woodcut and lithograph, called "Tree 8," in collaboration with Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The edition of 60 is currently in production, with price on request.
Artist Alex Katz did this woodcut and lithograph, called "Tree 8," in collaboration with Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. The edition of 60 is currently in production, with price on request. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]

Among others who have collaborated with Graphicstudio is choreographer Trisha Brown. She used her feet to create a series called “Compass,” making footprints on copper plates from which the prints were made.

In 2006, choreographer Trisha Brown used her feet to make "Compass,'' a softground etching with relief roll, at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Each piece in the edition of 35 is $1,200.
In 2006, choreographer Trisha Brown used her feet to make "Compass,'' a softground etching with relief roll, at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Each piece in the edition of 35 is $1,200. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]
"Founding Grounds," a cast bronze sculpture with applied patina, was made by Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid last year at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Price on request for the one-of-a-kind sculpture.
"Founding Grounds," a cast bronze sculpture with applied patina, was made by Syrian artist Diana Al-Hadid last year at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Price on request for the one-of-a-kind sculpture. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]

Diana Al-Hadid, a Syrian artist living in Brooklyn, recently worked with Graphicstudio to make sculptures based on the human form. The studio’s support “comes at a point in my practice in which I am eager to develop ideas I would ordinarily be unable to explore in my own studio,” she said. “The work I am creating at Graphicstudio would surely not have been possible to realize, and quite likely improbable to conceptualize, without their assistance.”

Upcoming collaborations include one with Rico Gatson, a multidisciplinary artist who sculpts, paints, draws and makes videos. “Graphicstudio has a long storied history of having worked with some of the most important artists of our times,” said Gatson, some of whose work is on view at USF’s art museum. “It’s an enormous opportunity and I’m so excited to see what we produce.’'

The studio will also be working with Superflex, a Danish collective of three artists — Jakob Fenger, Rasmus Nielsen and Bjorn Christiansen — who specialize in public and experimental art. And it hopes to get conceptual artist Tavares Strachan, who recently won a MacArthur genius grant.

Graphicstudio is subsidized by multiple sources — grants, sales, donations, consulting fees and a few salaries paid by the College of Arts. Under a new program starting this fall, donors can get three prints in exchange for a contribution to the studio’s research mission.

Buy or visit

On May 20, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., prints from the collection will be on display and for sale. Graphicstudio, 3702 Spectrum Blvd., No. 100, Tampa, is open to the public for tours or individual appointments. Email gsoffice@usf.edu or call 813-974-3503.

James Rosenquist, left, one of the leading proponents of the pop art movement, is shown here working with Tom Pruitt, the master printer and studio manager of Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Rosenquist, who died in 2017, had a studio in Hernando County.
James Rosenquist, left, one of the leading proponents of the pop art movement, is shown here working with Tom Pruitt, the master printer and studio manager of Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Rosenquist, who died in 2017, had a studio in Hernando County. [ Graphicstudio ]
The late Robert Rauschenberg made this three-color lithograph, "Tampa 7 (Fall)," in 1972 in an edition of 20 at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
The late Robert Rauschenberg made this three-color lithograph, "Tampa 7 (Fall)," in 1972 in an edition of 20 at Graphicstudio at the University of South Florida in Tampa. [ Graphicstudio, photo by Will Lytch ]