This Honolulu Printmaking Project Needs You

An interactive art event is building a mural from wooden blocks.

Photo:  Jeremy Pang

Duncan Dempster is the professor of cool. There is a chili pepper next to his name on, so the chicks dig him, even if they can’t spell his name right. But since taking over as director of the Honolulu Printmakers last year, Dempster has worked hard to bring the printing presses to the masses, wheeling them out and setting up at events such as R/D’s “Linotype” film screening (a film about the death of a printmaking technology), a printed-tote-bag pop-up shop in Limb Workshop, and others. His goal: to reintroduce people to the physical craft of printmaking. It might be a bit much to say he and the rest of the Honolulu Printmakers are saving the craft from obsolescence, but he’s definitely making it cooler.

Take .5ppi, their most recent event. Inside the former Ektopia gallery on Waialae Avenue, a press is set up in the middle of the room and there’s a mural made of wood blocks that’s growing around it as people work together to print its panels. The picture? It’s so far unknown, and that’s part of the fun. We do know it’s a very pixelated version of a film still from some old French indie flick. (.5ppi is computer language meaning one half pixel per inch, a reference to an image’s digital resolution.) “It’s based on 2-by-2-inch woodblocks. 2-by-2 comes out to half a pixel per inch, which is very low resolution,” Dempster says. When you blow that image up on a 10-by-20 foot wall, “it changes. It loses qualities and gains qualities.”

This “analog pixel-based printing system” was devised by students in his Intermediate Printmaking class at the University of Hawaii. Dempster realized that the Ektopia space would be available in February and March, and wanted to seize the opportunity to do something unique. “We have two big walls here, and great light,” he says. “I didn’t want to just do an exhibition, because we have the annual show coming up. And we already did a ‘rejects’ art show, so I didn’t want to do that.”

So he opened the discussion up to his students, who came up with the idea to take a still image from a vintage French indie film, significantly pixelate it, and translate it into a layout that can be printed in grids to form a large mural on the wall. It’s tricky to describe, but fun to watch and do.

It’s a community-participatory piece that invites anybody into the gallery to grab a panel, which has the gradients marked on it, choose the woodblocks that correspond to your panel, place them into the grid, ink them, roll them through the printer, and hang it in its place on the wall to dry, getting a full experience of the printmaking process. It’s great for people who have never touched a printing press in their life to see how it’s done—furthermore, anyone is invited to bring in their own woodcut and print a piece of their own design—and it’s not just for rookies.

“I’m looking forward to intermingling between my UH printmakers and folks down at Honolulu Printmakers.” It’s just another great example of his ability to “provide a loose framework and let collaborations fill in the content.” Let’s hope there are plenty more to come.

For an example of the Honolulu Printmakers’ breadth of work, visit their 86th Annual Exhibition, juried by Liz Chalfin, which opens on Wednesday, Feb. 26 and runs through March 21 at the Honolulu Museum of Art School.

.5ppi, a “collaborative supergraphic pop-up print installation,” is open at the former Ektopia gallery, 3167 Waialae Ave., through March 7, Monday to Friday, 12 p.m. to 4 p.m.,