Victoria Edgarr and Ground Zero

By Christine Clark, September 2012

The method—and community—behind the madness of printmaking.

When Victoria Edgarr and her long time partner Alain Costaz, with whom she creates collaborative prints under the pseudonym Chloé, came to Victoria in 1993, they almost immediately “took responsibility for Ground Zero Printmakers Society, [doing] everything from maintenance, design, provisions, keeping things moving, [and] generating the people to work in the studio.”

“We put a huge amount of energy into the community, the meetings…[and] the artists. Artists came through Ground Zero and later had shows or created portfolios, or came to work on six-month projects, and there were older people…working on learning to make art. There was lots and lots of community art and involvement,” she says. 

And Victoria and Alain were there to help other artists less experienced in the studio too, “sharing technique and knowledge. There is the idea that you need only genius and pigment, but actually there’s method to madness—the more comfortable you are, the more creative you can be.” In the printmaking studio, Victoria says, “there is a choreography or zen practice. Everything is connected, everything is important and has meaning. Just knowing how to clean up [for instance].”

With a great wide-open laugh, Victoria exclaims, “I think I paid my debt to society! I’m starting to focus on my own art,” a tongue-in-cheek kind of remark probably not entirely true. 

Born in Montreal, Victoria Edgarr studied art at Dawson College and later took a BFA at Concordia University, where she studied with Irene Whittome, an internationally recognized artist who, in turn, had studied with influential print maker, S.W. Hayter at Atelier 17 in Paris. It was during one of Whittome’s classes that Victoria was first introduced to the idea of creating albums, which she explains is “a traditional way of looking at prints” where a series of images are presented together in a book or small box and can be perused one page at a time in a very intimate fashion. This is a device that Victoria uses to great effect, often creating delicate little collections that you can cradle carefully in the palms of your hands. 

After University, she went on to first study printmaking and then to become messier (technical coordinator) at Montreal’s la Guilde Graphique, a gallery, printmaking house and distributor, founded in the mid-’60s by Richard Lacroix, another student of Atelier 17. She describes la Guilde as an enormous place made up of two floors of studios and explains that there is “huge funding for the arts in Quebec…where printmaking is pervasive. I spent 15 or 20 years in a culture where printmaking was primary…from tourists to museums, there was a broad range of audience.”

“Printmaking is very participatory,” she says. “People… contribute just by buying the images. The means of production is [also] cooperative. I’ve had studios of my own, but have always been part of a print studio. A printmaking studio—printmaking itself—is a long- term investment. It’s a huge commitment, the accounting and the scrubbing. You can’t afford to be vulnerable. We need a stable place.” 

This is why community is so important to a printmaker, perhaps especially in BC where government funding is more limited. Printmakers share space and tools and knowledge and costs out of necessity, and the art-buying public helps too to defray the costs of art-making. There is symbiosis required for a printmaking shop to run successfully.

One of her newest projects, a personal one called “Situations,” illustrates the importance of community to Edgarr in two ways; she is preoccupied with community because she needs community. 

Using a technique called contact printmaking, she drew images of toys (including a plastic princess) on the back of a thin sheet of rice paper laid face down on an inked plate; the resulting ink drawings (visible once the rice paper is peeled away from the plate) will be later used in a series of very large-scale chine collé prints. Beginning each image by drawing a single toy, she then drew in the other toys relating to the first. She describes this as “an accumulative form of composition; creating a composition by relationships.” And because art, like politics, is often personal, she muses that, “The relationship you have with people creates the picture of your life.” As we can see, Victoria’s relationships within her community are vital to her practice as an artist.

For the second part of the project, creating the chine collé prints, a process which, very simply put, works to adhere a thin sheet of paper (in this case the drawings of toys) onto a thicker backing paper, she will have to travel to where there is a press available, one large enough for her project, either at Malaspina or in Banff. Because of this ingrained sense of mutual need, Victoria will be able to complete her project thanks to the generosity, organization and hard work of the larger printmaking community. 

Victoria and Alain still run Ground Zero, a 40-member predominantly self-funded printmaking shop, now located in a fascinating, labyrinth-like studio overlooking Chinatown. As a group, they are currently working to complete four albums of 15 prints each, commemorating seven historic sites located around the city, a project they call Visions of Victoria 2012, a contribution to the City of Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebration for which they received a 150 Peoples and Places grant. They will be presenting an album to both the Greater Victoria Public Library (October 21) and to Victoria City Council (October 25) in public ceremonies.

Christine Clark is a Victoria-based artist and writer. To learn more about Victoria Edgarr and Ground Zero Printmakers, please see www.groundzeroprint.com, http://victoriaedgarr.weebly.com.