The Evolution of a Master Printer
Figure Aesthetic on display at Wingspan Gallery
By Mark Heidinger

“To be a good role model (as a teacher), you can’t just repeat yourself. You must remain vulnerable,
accept the uncontrollable, and remain a student,” says Ross Zirkle. Pictured is “The Red Blanket.”

One of Kentucky's truly gifted artists, Ross Zirkle, Assistant Professor of Drawing and Printmaking at UK, holds the distinct honor of being one of only sixty artists in the world with the title Tamarind Master Printer-and he lives in Lexington. Zirkle landed in the Bluegrass four years ago after receiving the prestigious Master Printer title from Tamarind, a once-independent printmaking program now affiliated with the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. As 2001's first Gallery Hop approaches, art connoisseurs won't want to miss Figure Aesthetic, Zirkle's latest exhibit of drawings, paintings, and waterless lithographs, at Wingspan Gallery.

Tucked neatly on the corner of Jefferson and Second Street (across from Ace Weekly), Wingspan Gallery opened its doors to the public in September of 2000. Local artist and owner Carlton Wing acquired the building some fifteen months ago transforming the old haven once known as the Fishnet into one of the area's most comfortable, unique gallery spaces. If Wingspan feels less like a gallery and more like someone's living quarters, then you've experienced Wingspan the way Carlton intended. Upon entering, the cozy qualities of this gem of a gallery are immediately apparent.

While regarded as one of the world's Master Printers, Zirkle's accomplishments and artistic abilities haven't gone to his head. A soft-spoken, sincere person, Zirkle describes his artistic endeavors as the spiritual, creative process of accessing the unknowable and uncontrollable. He states, "The mystery inherent in lithography allows for surprises. No formula exists in inventing media. Taking risks remains the adventure." In reference to his current occupation as a professor, Zirkle provides refreshing insight quipping, "To be a good role model (as a teacher), you can't just repeat yourself. You must remain vulnerable, accept the uncontrollable, and remain a student," thereby encouraging other students to take chances as artists. Indeed.

While Zirkle's prints employ waterless lithography, a technique barely ten years old, the quality of the work is timeless. Prints like "Wind Form" and "The Swing" present the human figure in thought provoking poses extending beyond the boundaries of representational art via frantic lines and calming abstractions. In true metaphorical fashion, Zirkle's prints suggest a spiritual connection between the artist and his subject matter, as well as the actual process. However, the connection doesn't stop there. Zirkle explains, "Part of being an artist is letting people know who you are. Masking our identities is a part of life. Letting go and exposing the self is the journey of the artist." In exposing the self, Zirkle reveals both his own vulnerabilities as well as his subject matter. Largely taken from the Open Drawing Studio sessions offered at UK, Zirkle's subject matter, and his subsequent representation of the models, often evoke spiritual and tangible connections between the figure and the environment. In prints like "August I" and "August II," Zirkle presents the figure interacting with the environment and nature allowing the evolving figure to summon her surroundings. By allowing the work to develop in mid-process, the outcome takes on an intimate, wholly unique identity.

Throughout all of the pieces in Figure Aesthetic, the one constant remains the subject matter's ability to communicate with the environment, the artist, and the viewer. Zirkle adds, "Art touches upon all facets of the self-light and dark. The dark is more interesting. We submerge those realities and ideas because we don't want to dwell on the uncomfortable. But the dark elements connect us with humanity." It is this spiritual connection with humanity that allows the pieces in Figure Aesthetic to compliment each other communicating with a common voice, though each with varying timbre.

Figure Aesthetic opens Friday, February 16 and runs through March 18. Wingspan Gallery is located at 191 Jefferson Street, Lexington, KY and will be open Friday the 16th from 5:00 to 9:00 pm. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday, Friday, and Sunday 1:00 to 5:00 pm or by appointment at 252.7000.