Internationally acclaimed lithographer less known at home

“For all that he has accomplished, he is better known in the UK, Europe, Asia, Japan and Australia than here in Saskatchewan and Canada,” says the curator of a show featuring a Nik Semenoff, a long-time Saskatoon printmaker. 

Alchemy – Life Works of a Master Printmakeris showing at the Chapel Gallery until Jan. 27. It features the art of a master who is, in typically Canadian fashion, less known in his home territory than internationally.

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Paul Constable, curator, says Semenff is not only a “master printmaker, he is an inventor, jeweller/goldsmith, painter, drawer, model maker, sculptor and more.”

Constable, a landscape artist living and working in Saskatoon, says, “As a fellow artist I have known Nik Semenoff for many years and have been there at pinnacle moments in the development of his printmaking inventions and, of course, his artwork, that are changing printmaking for the 21st century.”

Semenoff is not only a master printmaker, says Constable, he has developed and implemented new technology in printing and printmaking that has made work and art safer for people around the world, as well as for the environment, replacing harsh, toxic chemicals and oil-based inks with salts, natural materials, photocopier toner and even household products.

He was an underdog when it came to forcing change on an archaic art practice; old ways made it hard to accept new and better ways of doing the same thing, Constable explains. But now his innovations are used throughout the world.

Semenoff, who was born in Arelee in 1928, describes himself as a retired printmaker who spent most of his life in art, first as a commercial artist for a printing plant, then art director of a television station and finally as media specialist and teacher at a university.

“Over the years I have painted, produced gold and silver jewelry, dabbled in electronics and all the time held a deep appreciation for printmaking, especially lithography,” says Semenoff. “I have a high regard for science, loved chemistry and physics at school, but the thought of doing serious mathematical calculation put me into a serious sweat. I chose the easier path of drawing ideas instead of calculating.”

Semenoff is indeed known world wide. He has been to a number of international printmaking conferences where he demonstrated and presented papers on he processes and has been invited to many university print departments as guest artist to show his methods.

“I have been to Hong Kong and to Japan twice to show my processes,” says Semenoff. “In 2008, I was invited to give workshops and lectures in Ireland and the UK.”

Since retiring from the University of Saskatchewan in 1992, he holds the position of artist-in-residence with the department of art and art history. In 2006, he was given an Honorary Doctor of Letter Degree for his work in innovative printmaking. He is in the University of Toronto’s Canadian Who’s Who and was given the Saskatchewans Arts Board Lifetime Award for Excellence in the Arts of 1999.

Semenoff says, “I try to print everyday, but this is hard with other interests like keeping up websites, producing CDs and doing research.”

Constable says he is honoured to be the curator of Semenoff’s exhibition of artworks.

“As curator, I was entrusted to go through his life’s work to pull together a major exhibition. When I started going through the work I was overwhelmed with well over 140 different prints and hundreds of paintings to sort. After a number of visits and edits, the subject matter of a few unique prints caught my eye. Then I noticed other prints and some of the paintings had the same subject matter. I had found a treasure, a powerful living response by month and year of our lives as noted by Nik Semenoff. This show is as sincere a show as I have ever seen. It is not a manipulated visual display working to a theme. The theme came out of the body of work. As he reacted to the news and happenings of the day and reflecting on past events, he created work one at a time for years and placed them in the drawer.”

Constable says, “This exhibition is about hierarchy and privilege and how idea transference is used to tell this story from one piece to the next. His paintings may have initiated the idea and prints spun off the paintings. Nik is a consummate historian and news of a war, an injustice or residential school travesty sparked a sharp response visually, yet was kept hidden in a drawer. Common colours, symbols and shapes like the ‘X’ as a signature, the sun, moon, windows, medals, shields, awards, flags and maps travel through the pieces and define our flawed society as one of possession, ownership and greed. Each time I look back on the show another layer is revealed. Twenty-nine prints and 15 paintings become the framework for a tough conversation we need to address.”

Constable is happy to have the first exhibition of Alchemyat North Battleford’s gallery for contemporary art.

“The Chapel Gallery is highly undervalued in the role it has taken over the years. It is a catalyst for emerging artists and has helped launch many careers and provided not only support, but a professional gallery presence, while presenting them to the community. The gallery is part of OSAC [Organization of Saskatchewan Arts Councils] and through this government sponsored program brings in big name artists like Joe Fafard and Douglas Bentham into the Battlefords community. This allows children and adults the opportunity to see work and meet these Saskatchewan artists.”

Constable adds, “Art education is a lifetime of learning and for people to engage in visual conversations, strengthen mental health and diversify the way we look at our lives. Art is so important for us to understand ourselves and define our personal visions and dreams. We as artists are always emerging at whatever stage of our art careers we are at. I can’t imagine an artist willing to accept that there is nothing left to learn.”

For artists, Alchemycan be a learning experience. Instruction DVDs are available at the Chapel Gallery. Even more information can be found on Semenoff’s website: www.ndiprintmaking.ca

Constable says Alchemyis intended to travel.

“We are presently in the process of organizing a touring show. Another round of proposal packages will be sent out by the end of this year to prominent public art galleries across Saskatchewan and the prairies.”

If you would like this show in your community, you may contact Constable at p.constable@sasktel.net or 306-229-6204

 

 

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