by Jason Brown
I’m in his home studio surrounded by the ephemera, blocks, inks, and tools of an artist who has dedicated his career to the old techniques. For almost thirty years he has been the manager, chief designer, archivist, and curator of Hatch Show Print, turning it from a letterpress shop in decline into a world-renowned business while at the same time preserving its history. Former employees have moved on to found the Isle of Printing, Fat Crow Press, and Sawtooth Printhouse, keeping the traditions of printmaking very much alive in Nashville.
It was while studying for an English degree that he enrolled in a printmaking course, and he “devoured it, fell in love with it.” This resulted in his first Artist Book published in 1982. Following a positive review in The Tennessean, Sherraden submitted to various magazines, achieving further success with publication in the literary art magazine New Blood, sharing space with the poet and writer Charles Bukowski. His most recent Artist Book Blades of Trees (ed.18), a collaboration with Celene Aubry, is a combination of woodcuts old and new and a nod to Walt Whitman, with whom he shares a birthday.
Partnerships are essential to Sherraden. In early ’80s Nashville he was introduced to both the archives of Hatch and the Norwegian singer/songwriter Jonas Fjeld. He had a source and inspiration for his artworks and a melody writer for his lyrics, which he believes taught him discipline, making him a better printmaker. “It’s knowing when you are done and working within a confined space.”
His time spent working with Fjeld in Norway gained awards and an opportunity to discover the woodcuts of Munch, Kirchner, and other European Expressionists. This experience inspired the series of intricate, black-and-white Scandinavian woodcuts that are still in production today and are available at LeQuire Gallery on Charlotte Avenue.
In 1992, test prints through the presses led to the discovery of an overlaying of images, text, and color. Influenced by Dutch artist Hendrik Werkman, a contemporary of Mondrian and Escher, and urged on by old friend and sculptor Alan LeQuire, he explored the possibilities of the monoprint. This creative exploration coincided with a movement in graphic design against the perfection of digital type. Visits to the print shop from the seminal graphic designers Charles Spencer Anderson and David Carson resulted in Carson’s inviting Jim to design a cover for his alternative rock ‘n’ roll magazine Ray Gun.
Since the first series of monoprints, Sherraden has gone on to design and print over 2,500, each signed and numbered. The monoprints are a collaboration between Jim, the work of previous designers, and a print shop with over one hundred years of history. The iconic blocks and photo plates featuring images of Elvis, carnivals, and advertising slogans were used as themes. Small blocks of eyes, mouths, and shoes were elaborated upon and re-carved by Sherraden, then used in repetition to make patchwork designs. Collectors of the traditional Hatch Show Print poster were soon visiting lower Broadway in search of new monoprints.
“I print in the warm months and cut blocks in the cold months.”
Having acquired some antique Cuban, pre-Castro wood blocks, Sherraden took the small designs and incorporated them into his own art.
“Hatch drives you to have a central theme.”
The successful Cuban series with images of houses and hills, flora and fauna was inspired by the balance found in quilts, Native American art, Moroccan pottery, and Dutch tiles. He unveils to me his latest piece from this series. It’s a patchwork design with woodblock prints cut, arranged, and mounted on a multi-dimensional wood base, then hand finished with a brayer. Over thirty-three years of printmaking have given him the confidence and lack of fear to add these finishing touches and use his own work this way.
The Crazy Quilt is his most challenging project to date. In the true tradition of quilting, fragments of his woodcut prints are painstakingly pieced together and supported top and bottom by a wooden dowel. This extremely labor-intensive process results in a grand but light-handed and seemingly fragile artwork measuring 43” x 43”. Sherraden promises similar pieces in the future.
I’m handed an exquisitely cut woodblock from his new series based on the Temari Ball, a complex construction of Kimono threads popularized in Japan. These delicate woodcuts will be hand finished in watercolor for showing at LeQuire Gallery along with other new, multidimensional quilted pieces.
New ideas continue to flow from Sherraden. He references the woodcuts, gathers fresh blocks to cut, and sees larger pieces ahead.
As he walks me to my car and thanks me for my time, I’m thinking about his songwriting awards, Silver Medal from the Nashville Chapter of the American Advertising Federation and the Distinguished Artist Award from the State of Tennessee.
The new Haley Gallery within the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will feature his monoprints.
New woodcuts by Jim Sherraden can be seen at LeQuire Gallery in the group show The Nature of Wood: Sculpture and Turnings by Olen Bryant, William Kooienga, and Brenda Stein with woodcuts by Alan LeQuire and Jim Sherraden. Opening reception Saturday, October 12. www.lequiregallery.com.