Just as Seattle has a ceramics underside, it also has a breed of artists whose primary work in sculpture, conceptual art, or performance masks a fervent devotion to printmaking. Every once in a while, they come out. And it's fair to say that Ben Beres, better known as part of the trio SuttonBeresCuller, is Seattle's leading printmaking fiend.
To make his second solo show at Davidson Galleries, he essentially locked himself in a studio for five months with an etching needle, metal plates, and his racing thoughts. (When he took a break, it was to do eye exercises he learned while reading about batter Edgar Martinez's locker-room habits.) He made two types of prints: text-only, with words presented in tight, patterned fields; or clouds of floating texts and images. The text can get so small—the show title, Vortext, gives the right impression—that to look at it is an act of will; maybe an eye athlete can read it all. One imagines the benefit of owning one is the ability to take breaks, then come back later.
Labor and laziness are both glorified in this art. Each piece is painstakingly made, the artist hand-wiping the plates, trying to leave just the right amount of ink in the grooves to make the printed lines rich and even. More bells and whistles characterized Beres's first solo at Davidson three years ago: irregularly shaped curvy plates, bright colors. This time, all 17 of the prints are stripped-down chine collé, black ink on uncolored paper, the images exposed and writhing within (mostly) rectangular frames.
But their subject matter is laid-back in the extreme: the in-jokes of meandering road trips (that churchy I-5 billboard reimagined as "Christ Died to Save Dinners"). Sitting in Loretta's bar in South Park getting drunk. Watching The Wire, thumbs-upping Omar. Following a family friend's Facebook postings ("I have been dreaming about fresh corn" and "I love cheese but not feta—ick!" and "LADYBUG IS THE CUTEST DOG IN MY NEIGHBORHOOD").
Love and poetry are Beres's themes in the broadest sense. Text is provided by Seattle poet Robert Mittenthal (Muffled, a row of cubes of text, each a single line spiraling in on itself). Some of the prints issue supplications that could only be addressed directly to a person's heart. Sorry is line after line of sorry, peppered with the occasional "God I'm sorry" or "Shit so sorry"; it wants to be read aloud, but that seems sadder than what's possible.
You can't be sure whether Beres is being playful or serious—often, it's both. Suggestions is a web of letters that overlap and interlock around a dense center in a delicate doily formation, but the letters have a goofy lankiness that suggests alphabet-soup hallucination. The words are hard to read—impressively so, their tendrils all carefully woven together—but you can make out something to the effect that you should buy this art. Ben Beres: not too proud to beg.