Since its formation in 1978, Island Press has evolved from a traditional contract print shop into a uniquely collaborative and educational enterprise. It is now known for its complex, large-scale works by a range of renowned artists.
In the spring 2011 semester, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum explored that evolution with Island Press: Three Decades of Printmaking. The exhibition surveyed more than two dozen works highlighting the press’s history of technical innovation, artistic experimentation and student participation.
Peter Marcus, now professor emeritus of printmaking, established Island Press at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. The press takes its name from a massively oversized etching press that Marcus built in the early 1990s with St. Louis machinist Warren Sauer, a design they dubbed “The Island Press.”
Though university-affiliated presses typically exist as independent entities separate from the academic structure, Marcus sought to integrate press operations with the school’s teaching mission. This allowed students to assist visiting artists and the master printer at all stages of creation and production.
Joan Hall, the Kenneth E. Hudson Professor of Art and current director of Island Press, expanded Marcus’ original aims by involving students in new areas of production, such as fabricating handmade paper and assembling 3-dimensional collages.
During its first decade, the press employed traditional printmaking, such as lithography, etching and monotype. Today, Island Press produces large-scale, mixed-media works of striking technical and conceptual complexity.
Most recently, Ann Hamilton, the inaugural Arthur L. and Sheila Prensky Visiting Artist at Island Press, worked with students and master printer Tom Reed to create a site-specific installation. The ongoing work encompasses experiments with mixed media, digital printing and photolithography, as well as more traditional forms such as etching and engraving.