In 1949, members of the fledgling CoBrA art movement gathered at a residential retreat outside of Copenhagen to do some interior decorating, collectively covering the walls, floors and ceiling with their colorful mark-making at the owner’s invitation. This same spirit of collaboration animates Lynk Collective, founded in 2017 in Irvine, California, by students of printmaking teacher Nguyen Ly. The group’s membership consists of former students at Irvine Fine Arts Center, current students at Angels Gate Cultural Center in San Pedro, where Nguyen continues to teach, and a diverse group of printmakers from around Southern California.
The initial project around which the group came together was an accordion book of prints created by Elisabeth Beck, Alexandra Chiara, Andre Comtois, Bill Jaros, Bill Myers, lab tech Marelyn Larios and Nguyen. “Each person printed an edition of seven prints and at the end of that class the prints were glued together into seven editioned books,” Nguyen recalled.
From there, a decision was made to join together to represent the printmaking department at that year’s Irvine Fine Arts art festival. Suddenly the need for a name arose. “‘Lynk Collective’ was Marelyn’s idea,” said Nguyen, a play on words combining his last name, Ly, with the word “ink.”
Even the naming of the entity was a collaborative effort. “I mentioned we were all ‘linked’ together as artists and printmakers,” recalled Bill Myers. “[Marelyn] put the words together.”
Nguyen is the “link,” as Marelyn noted, that connects everyone in the group together.
Membership has more than tripled since that original core, but the spirit of collaboration continues. During the pandemic lockdowns, when the Irvine Fine Arts Center and other print studios were unavailable for use, members of the group kept in touch—and did portraits of each other—over Zoom. “Like everyone, we stayed in touch with virtual meetings,” said Paula Voss. They conducted a print exchange of their mutual portraits and combined the prints into a single exhibition piece.
Another pandemic project led to the hardcover book “Tension: Twenty Weeks” (2021), designed by Zana Zupur and Christina Yasmin Fesmire, which documents a series of prints by ten participants. The prints in the book were created consecutively, explained Christina, with each artist taking inspiration from the print that came before. Each image forms a link in the chain of influence from one artist to the next. The resulting book is “a testament to the spontaneous nature of collaboration, the importance of remaining flexible and the growth that can come through challenging times.”
The artists are constantly experimenting and learning from each other, a free exchange of ideas that is perhaps unique to the medium of printmaking, in which there are so many potential techniques and always something new to be learned.
“We play, compromise, and push each other to take risks that extend our individual abilities,” observed Alexandra Chiara.
Over the past few years, the collective has exhibited the fruits of their experimentation at Pilgrim’s Coffee House in Fullerton, Chemer’s Gallery in Tustin, B Minus Studios in Santa Ana’s Santora Arts Building, and Gallery 306 at the Kaleidoscope in Mission Viejo.
In January 2023, they will have their largest and most comprehensive exhibit to date, “Pressing Together: Merging Styles and Ideas Through Printmaking” at the Orange County Center for Contemporary Art (OCCCA) in Santa Ana’s Artist Village. “The main idea for the show is collaborations between printmakers,” said Nguyen, who is curating the show. Every project in the exhibit has been worked on by two or more artists and contains at least an element of printmaking, ranging from paper lithography to monoprints to traditional etching.
Pieces in the show include a large drypoint of Lucifer on three full sheets of paper, a forest of tree trunks and root structures executed in a myriad of print techniques, and the “Sky” project spearheaded by LAPS member Andra Broekelschen. For the latter project, artists printed on narrow strips of heavyweight printmaking paper, with the ever-changing sky as inspiration, and these prints were combined around a central hub to form spokes in a circular structure. The variety of colors and textures in these structures are evocative of the transitory moods of the celestial sphere.
“The prompts we suggest for collaborative projects are inspiring me to come up with new ideas and to try out different forms of printmaking,” said Andra.
Other highlights of the group’s production of the past several years that will be on display are the “Camouflage” project in which one artist creates an image and another adds a pattern to break up the picture plane, a large cyanotype mural on fabric with stitched additions, and an installation of manipulated self-portraits.
In some prints, lines sit directly on top of each other, twisting and overlapping like layers of archeology, varied only by the color of the ink and the mark-making of the artist’s hand. In other prints, the collaboration is contiguous, flat areas of color and pattern laying side-by-side, as in “Ode to Joy” by Elisabeth Beck, Tracy Loreque Skinner and Paula Voss, in which an upward-reaching figure is divided into thirds, each section of the body created by a different artist and displayed together on the wall.
Balancing out these explosions of color are monochromatic studies from the darker side of life, as in another work divided into thirds, the massive Lucifer print—created in homage to Botticelli’s fifteenth century illustration for Dante’s Inferno—which stares at the viewer from one of three heads, his hair and other details carefully rendered with fuzzy drypoint line work. Printed on the large Ettan press at Irvine Fine Arts Center, this image was so large that it required some ingenuity to execute the print.
“When we work together, we complete one another’s sentences artistically,” said Christina. “It’s transformative. That’s the magic.”
In a further demonstration of the communal possibilities of printmaking, Nguyen invited a select group of additional artists from throughout Los Angeles, Long Beach and Orange County to collaborate on work for the exhibit, including Kiyomi Fukui, Francesca Lalanne, and Mono Grafico Colectivo.
An opening reception for “Pressing Together” will be held at OCCCA Jan. 7, from 6 to 10 p.m., during the long-running monthly Santa Ana Art Walk.
A catalog for the show is being designed by Christina Yasmin Fesmire and Diana Miller.
LYNK COLLECTIVE- lynkcollective.com