Conscientious artist: Printmaker uses eco-friendly methods to convey environmental messagesWORTHINGTON — Initially, Steve Nowatzki is a tough nut to crack open. He’s a quiet, introspective man, and talking about himself doesn’t come easily.
By: Beth Rickers, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — Initially, Steve Nowatzki is a tough nut to crack open. He’s a quiet, introspective man, and talking about himself doesn’t come easily.
But as he begins to describe the process of printmaking — zinc etching, to be exact — Nowatzki’s eyes begin to light up, and his voice and gestures become more animated. This is a man who enjoys what he does and is passionate about both the artistic process and the messages he conveys through his work.
Since his dad served in the military, Steve spent many of his growing-up years in Europe. He eventually earned a bachelor’s degree from Moorhead State University and has been a working artist ever since. His work will be displayed throughout November in the Fine Arts Building at Minnesota West Community and Technical College, Worthington campus.
“I began in drawing and painting,” he explained about his artistic history. “I was introduced to printmaking in Germany, Heidelberg, briefly in high school, but I was not showed all the possibilities. A thousand years later, I took an intro to printmaking class, and I was hooked as soon as I did my first soft ground and figured out I could transfer texture from materials onto the plate. I saw the possibilities. It wasn’t something I could achieve with the other things I was attempting.”
Using a small, rectangular scrap of mat board as a visual aid, Nowatzki details how a print is achieved.
“You start with an etching plate — copper or zinc. I use zinc. It’s softer, quicker, cheaper. I bevel the edges,” he said, pretending to take the edge off. “The back side is baked-on enamel, which is acid-proof. The top side is just metal, and it’s about exposing and protecting the metal plate from acid. You use a substance called ground … it’s like tar, and you paint that on to protect the whole plate. Then, using a sharp tool, you scratch away the ground, but not enough to scratch the plate, just to expose the metal. You put it in a weak bath of acid and water, and it oxidizes the exposed metal, and it becomes a miniature landscape.”
The plate is cleaned thoroughly with a solvent to get rid of the ground; ink is applied over the plate and then wiped away, leaving ink behind in all the crevasses that were etched into it. The plate is then run through a press, along with dampened paper and blankets as padding; as it is cranked through, the ink is transferred to the paper.
“Then, if I’m running an edition, I start it all over again,” Nowatzki continued. “Every print is unique. It’s impossible to make two that are identical. I always say that the process is three-fold. The first thing is coming up with an image that is worth the effort. Second is making the image, and third is printing the image.”
When he’s done with a particular edition, Nowatzki grinds the plate down to be recycled. He tries to recycle as many materials as possible, including the acid from the etching, which has been used countless times.
“I try to leave as small a footprint as possible. My credo is to live simply so others can simply live. That’s something I try not to forget,” he said.
Nowatzki also makes his own paper and utilizes it whenever possible in his work.
“All the paper is made from recycled cotton clothing and scraps of store-bought paper, which is also 100 percent cotton rag,” he detailed. “I use three types of paper, from Italy, France, England. … Making paper is nothing more than cutting the material up into small pieces and putting it into a water mill where it gets turned back into pulp. Then it gets put into a tub bath and screened out.”
The ecological message also comes through in his choice of images.
“The work presented here represents my attempt at stripping away the veneer of commercialized packaging that disguises the stresses put upon the planetary environment,” Nowatzki writes on his studio Web site. “The easiest way to accomplish this task would be to bluntly illustrate the damages done. Unfortunately, this easier route is not necessarily the most artistically gratifying. In my images, I’ve attempted to cerebrally challenge the viewer and also educate them with different view points on how they make their lifestyle choice.”
At one time a biology major, Nowatzki’s interests in the natural sciences and thorough research of his subject matter are also evident in the art.
“All my images are spurred by my absorption of science, nature, literature,” he said. “But now it’s bled into a more global effect of things. I went from using animals to completely extinct species, and in the last ones, no animals at all. It’s becoming more takes on policy — not political — but how the policies of politics impact our planet.”
The starting point for any piece of Nowatzki’s work is its title.
“I spend a lot of time researching science, and from that research, a concept will emerge. When I get a title, it goes on a list — otherwise I’ll forget,” he explained. “The chore is coming up with an image that justifies the title. My list is at least 20 years old.”
Among the pieces he brought for the Worthington show are titles such as “Political Sausage,” “Tipping Point,” “Species Molt,” “Racing Dinosaurs,” “Borderline Chaos,” “Frankensteer” and “Jealousy IV.”
“Once I start an image, it’s usually a springboard to a series,” Nowatzki said. “As I’m doing one, I’ll think of another way to do it, either more involved or pared back.”
To market his wares, Nowatzki makes the rounds of art festivals, sometimes in conjunction with his brother, Chris, an artist and teacher from Luverne. He displays framed pieces and offers shrink-wrapped copies of the editions. He hopes that people who wander into his booth leave with some food for thought about their lifestyle choices, if not a piece of artwork.
“My whole career is based on throw-away crap,” Nowatzki said. “If I can do it, anybody can do it.”
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