For some 40 years, master printmaker Bud Shark has been running Shark's Ink, a print studio that doubles as an artist residency, producing a wide variety of truly wonderful prints. There, in his Lyons, CO studio, he and his wife Barbara help artists—both newly invited and longtime collaborators—turn their visions into printed reality. Many of these collaborations result in flat prints, done using a wide variety of styles, colors, and layering, while others eventually become three-dimensional sculptural objects.
Originally from North Dakota, Shark studied printmaking at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, then as a graduate student at the University of New Mexico under Garo Antresian, one of the co-founders of the Tamarind Institute, which was set up to revive the art of lithography in the United States. After working in London printing for Editions Alecto and Petersburg Press, while also working with artists like David Hockney and James Rosenquist, Shark returned to the US, settling in Boulder, where he did construction work and painted signs before returning to printmaking in 1976.
The artists, who stay with Bud and Barbara for ten days to two weeks, typically share sketches or complete works, then the two parties discuss how to create the print. After doing some preliminary prints, they often realize that the print tells them what it is going to be, instead of Bud and the artist forcing it into a preconceived box.
"It's an odd process because you lay down color by color, layers of imagery, and you don't know what it's going to look like until you've printed all the plates," Shark says. "Sometimes it looks great and it's a really pleasant surprise, and sometimes you put the last color on and you go, 'Oh, no', and we have to go back to adjust some colors, and adjust this and that."
Shark's archive of prints, which span several decades, include an incredible variety of artistic styles. Enrique Chagoya's La Bestia's Guide to the Birth of the Cool, for instance, is a series of twelve colorful codices that explore the immigration of unaccompanied children from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras, and is a prime example of the experimental work that can be done at Shark's Ink. Another is Jane Hammond's Spells and Incantations, which is various prints collaged into a three-dimensional sculptural self-portrait in the style of an Egyptian sarcophagus.
"I choose artists I want to work with, because now it's invitation only," says Shark. "I'm interested in working with artists who work in different ways, and to figure out how to make prints and push the boundaries of printmaking a little bit, or develop new ways of doing things that suit that artist."
"One thing that Bud always says is that he works with artists who are oddballs," adds Barbara. "They're not in the mainstream, they're not in the auctions. They have great careers but they're kind of odd."
Artists Red Grooms and John Buck are two of these "iconoclasts," as Shark calls some of the artists he works with. With Bud, Groom creates quirky and colorful 3D lithographs that resemble both outsider art and the experimental comics of the 70s. Buck, on the other hand, works with pens, nails, and even his fingernail to carve idiosyncratic imagery and symbols culled from daily news, his sculptural works, and nature into woodblocks.
In the work, Argosy, for instance, Buck illustrates a jar of water in which a potato is growing. Around the jar and potato are various other illustrations, like an early Mickey Mouse, a TV set with a smiley face on it, and a literal starving artist at the bottom of the page, amongst other carvings.
"That's typical of his work, where there is this big central image that sort of draws you in first, and then the background is this tapestry of images that often has a lot of content, often political or commentary on the world," says Shark. "We've done a lot of work with John—probably more than 50 different prints."
"Barbara has printed some of his stuff with assistants, and we recently did two new prints with him," he adds. "So, it's probably a 35-year relationship."
Bud and Barbara say these long-standing relationships are common at Shark's Ink. If both parties are still interested in working together, the potential to do so is always there.
"There are ups and downs with artists all the time," says Barbara. "Sometimes they don't make a great print, but that's not really the point always. It's the evolution and it's the relationship."
Click here to see more printmaking work by Shark's Ink.