No Holds Barred

Text by By Kris Wilton Photography by Courtesy of Roxanne Faber Savage

Rich with archetypal images and evocative color, Roxanne Faber Savage’s uninhibited printmaking reflects the psychologist Carl Rogers’s idea that “what is most personal is most universal.”

Savage mines everything from the art-historical canon to her deepest memories and fears, employing familiar images like houses and birds, often rendered with almost primitive gusto. If anything unifies Savage’s output, with its easy range of palettes, techniques and imagery, it’s her raw energy and frank humility: this is an artist who’s willing to put it all on the line, and can’t wait to do so.

Born in Boston, Savage studied at Boston University, Pratt Institute and Queens College before settling in Connecticut, where she currently lives and keeps a studio. She and her husband chose Fairfield County for its easy access to New York City, where he works in broadcasting and she works with the master printer Kathy Caraccio. But in Connecticut, she says, she’s found a vibrant art scene in which to show, teach and trade ideas with a community of passionate peers.

As tantalizingly messy as her work can be, Savage defies the stereotype of the scattered artist, managing a sizeable teaching load while actively applying for fellowships, residencies and juried exhibitions. This spring alone, she has a solo show at The Orison Project, a new contemporary art gallery in Essex; she is one of six artists featured in the first annual Connecticut Printmakers Invitational at the Windsor Art Center; and her work will be shown in the annual members’ exhibition Panorama, opening April 1 at the Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, where Savage prints and is a regular teacher. In May she’ll be included in Silvermine Arts Center’s ninetieth anniversary exhibition in New Canaan.

The Orison show will present the greatest range of Savage’s work, including prints on Plexiglas, metal and silk as well as her Warholian wall installation Chemical Landscape. Here, Savage repeats one silk-screened image—rows of birds sitting on power lines—which she transferred from a photograph using paper lithography, a technique she considers among her specialties. “There’s something about the grittiness of a paper lithograph that I really like,” she says. “I like clarity but also that worn-out kind of feeling.”

Part of an extended body of work dealing both with birds themselves and also with things “birdish”—power lines, cages, clouds, the urban environment—the image was inspired by a car ride during which Savage and her family spotted thousands of birds spanning power lines near Monomoy Island off Cape Cod. “Stop the car for art!” she cried, leaping out to capture the scene with her camera.

Set against a range of shades brighter or more “chemical” than the typical sunset, the repeated Xerox-like image nonetheless calls to mind common experiences: peering out car windows as a child and languorous evenings spent staring at a fading sky. At once familiar and mysterious, Savage’s avian imagery tends to spark viewers’ own memories. At a dinner party one night, she recalls, “Every single person had a story about birds.”

If Chemical Landscape presents a stylized, ordered world, Savage’s more recent work delves into something much messier. Here she’s moved on from birds to houses, an image whose personal resonance she admits she’s still uncovering. In work after work Savage manipulates the core image—a childish stick-figure house—using, it seems, every tool at her disposal. There are scratchy, primitive-looking etchings; triptychs adorned with disorganized doodles and drips and blobs of color; a crayon series in which the title Maison is furiously obliterated with thick, scrawling black strokes.

It’s clear that Savage’s technical skill is such that she no longer needs to adhere to the rules; the effect is of a virtuoso cellist laying down the bow and going for the strings directly. “I think one of the things that makes my teaching and my artwork unique is that I try to be fearless,” she says. “I’m at the point of my life where it’s coming out of me. Yeah, I’m afraid, but if I’m afraid, so what?”

The key, she says, is getting it all out: “Then you refine it, you hone it, and there’s the beauty.” •

Editor’s Note: To see more of Savage’s work, visit www.roxanneprints.com.

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