ARTIST SPACES: Duluth printmaker packs personal meaning into her prints
Monica Ihrke enjoys her printmaking artform as a way to make multiple originals.
Monica Ihrke listens closely.
It’s the sound of the ink seeping into her hand roller that lets her know when it’s ready, she says, mimicking the tone.
Ihrke is a printmaker with no press. Instead, she hand-carves linoleum blocks to create prints that depict industrial and natural spaces — the metalic, sharp angles of the Aerial Lift Bridge or a foggy, wooded snapshot of Hartley Park.
“Something I love about printmaking is I can invest a lot of time into one work, but I actually get 20 of those works, and each of those are the original,” she said from her Hunter’s Park home.
Ihrke’s studio is in a “basement cave,” where she often works till she’s tired. The wee hours of the night are her most productive, with two young kiddos at home.
The desk is covered in a green cutting mat, two glass barens, a roll of colorful stamps, a sheet of paper covered in various colored inks.
Her practice was born out of college frugality, so her prints dry on an old shoe rack, and others hang from clothespins on wires. Her finished pieces rest in a flat file cabinet. Books on California landscapes, art history and photography line her shelf.
On the walls hang her running medals, a wooden owl clock and a framed print of a female hiker on a mountaintop. It reads: “Amanda only passed gas when truly alone.”
Ihrke surrounds herself with family artifacts and pieces by artists she respects. There's a poem written by her grandfather and a bluebird carving — a symbol of her deceased grandmother and a gift from her husband on their first Christmas, family photos, a Pound Puppy from her childhood, a drawing of four snowmen — compliments of one of her kids.
“These are my placenta flowers. One of the sweetest gestures of love," Ihrke said, recalling a friend who offered to bury her son’s afterbirth when Ihrke’s family had to move on short notice and didn’t want to travel with it.
To maximize time for her art, she carved out a space in her studio for her sons: a piano with headphones and an empty treadmill box.
Ihrke kneels on the floor of her studio, sifting through the flat file cabinet containing detailed prints of Dorothy Day, flowers and sedum, different angles of utility poles with a beach background in green, brown and dark blue.
“A painter can invest hours and hours into one painting, and to justify their time and their talent, they’re going to charge something for the 50 hours they spent. Whereas, I can spend 50 hours on 50 prints. The 50 prints could equal one painting. I love that about the work,” she said.
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Ihrke grew up in southern California, where she recalls a landscape of washed-out drainage ditches, abandoned windows and power lines. Duluth seems to be this perfect place, she said, this beautiful space that is juxtaposed with our industrial city. Ihrke and her husband honeymooned here 11 years ago, and planted Northland roots in 2019.
While she has been printmaking on and off since college, she really dove into it after the move, and it’s now her full-time gig.
Ihrke bases her prints off pictures she has most often taken during her runs. She starts by carving out layer after layer in a linoleum block, using knives or v-gouges — 20-year-old tools she said she should update.
“That’s probably why I don’t do wood. When I’ve gone with wood, they splinter,” she said.
These eventually become big rubber stamps, and creating one print can take three or four of them.
Ihrke uses linseed oil-based inks, which are easy to clean, in transparent and earthy colors. Her supply has lasted a long time, and a little goes a long way, she said.
She transfers her image onto whatever medium she’s using, fabric or paper, by applying pressure with a glass baren. They take a couple weeks to dry, and she had several at different stages hanging in her studio.
Ihrke has often used her prints to further causes she supports, such as printing T-shirts for “get out the vote” campaigns. She also created postcards of Greta Thunberg, Autumn Peltier, Septima Clark and more, images for her Sustainable Saints project.
And, she is working on a Building Bridges and Community project.
“After a year that stressed our society profoundly exposing its vulnerabilities and fractured relationships, I’m interested in how we can grow resilience in our community,” she said on her website.
So she made 250 hand-printed postcards with images of different physical bridges for folks to send to people with whom they wish to repair a relational bridge.
“I know a postcard isn’t going to solve relationship problems, but it’s a gesture and a motivator in my mind that I need to keep relationships with people that I see as having different thoughts. It’s a visual reminder for me to stay involved, stay connected to my community even though I don’t agree with everything,” she said.
“Art’s for the people, and print-making is for the people.”
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ARTIST SPACES is a series featuring artists and where they live or work. If you are an artist or know an artist with a great space, send your info to Melinda Lavine at firstname.lastname@example.org.