Select Prints from Open Studio: An Interview with Rebecca Travis

By: Kendra Popelas

Rebecca Travis, Curator and Collections Manager of Open Studio. Photo credit: Laura Bydlowska

Waddington’s Editions auction, held online from April 20-25, features eleven prints from the Open Studio print archive and publishing program. Kendra Popelas, Consignment Specialist in our Canadian Fine Art department, sat down with Rebecca Travis, Curator and Collections Manager of Open Studio to discuss the print archive, as well as the history, current state and future of one of Canada’s oldest artist-run centres.

Kendra Popelas: Rebecca, you have contributed to the development and vision of Open Studio as the Curator and Collections Manager. Could you tell us a little bit about the history of Open Studio, its impact on our arts community and the issues it is facing today? 

Rebecca Travis: Open Studio was started in 1970 by artists Richard Sewell and Barbara (Alix) Hall as a small storefront space – located at Queen and Peter Street – where artists could come together to share knowledge and studio equipment in the pursuit of printmaking. Shortly after, they were joined by a lithographer, Donald Holman, and expanded to a new space on King Street, offering equipment for printmaking techniques such as screenprinting, etching and intaglio, and lithography. The community of artists using the studio grew rapidly, from artists specifically working with printmaking, to artists from the wider art community who were creating custom projects in collaboration with printmakers in the studio. It was also around this time that the studio began publishing prints by well-known artists to fundraise for Open Studio and expanding programs for artists to access the space, such as guest renter programs and residencies.

Since 2004, we have been based at 401 Richmond Street in downtown Toronto. Our current space has two gallery spaces, a shop and collection area in the front-of-house, and an expansive printmaking studio in the back-of-house that is used by a community of artists, and for public printmaking classes. Open Studio is one of Canada’s earliest artist-run centres, a non-profit, and a charity organization, and the impact it has had on the arts community over 54 years of operation is immeasurable. We’re the only space in Toronto to offer access to multiple printmaking techniques, and without that access, the opportunities here for artists and the public to learn about and explore print would effectively cease.

Lot 10 – Spring Hurlbut (b. 1952), DON’T GIVE ME ANY OF YOUR LIP, 2015. Lithograph and screenprint in colours on wove paper, the full sheet; signed, titled, dated, and numbered 2/5; sheet 22 x 30 in — 55.9 x 76.2 cm. Estimate $3,000-$4,000

Unfortunately, due to a combination of ripple effects from the pandemic and funding cuts, we were facing potential closure this year. We launched a fundraising campaign last month, and the support from the community in the last few weeks has been incredible. The funds we have raised so far will sustain our operations until June, when we will temporarily close the studio area for renovation, and intend to reopen in time to celebrate our 55th anniversary in 2025. The next phase of our fundraising efforts is our online auction Future Proof, which will take place May 2-9 and features contemporary prints selected from a national open call, as well as artworks from the wider art community donated in support of Open Studio.

KP: The selection of prints being offered at Waddington’s in our Editions auction come from the Open Studio print archive and publishing programs. The archive holds editions from every print pulled at the studio between 1970 and 2018. Could you expand on the archive project, how it is helping Open Studio and your plans for preserving the archive? 

RT: The archive at Open Studio is a real treasure trove, but for many years was something of a question to be answered in terms of how to provide the resources needed to care for and house what was estimated at around 10,000 prints that were collected over the last five decades.

In 2018, collecting was paused and we received a Canadian Heritage Museums Assistance Program grant that allowed us to purchase new archive storage, create a digital database, and purchase photography equipment to document the artwork. When the pandemic happened, we, like many other organizations, looked internally at what we do and why. It was clear that the archive was too large to manage, and it was decided that a smaller, formal collection would be created by selecting around 2,500 prints to catalogue and digitize. At this time, we were able to hire an archivist thanks to a further grant from the Ontario Trillium Foundation.

Lot 9 – AA Bronson, OC, RCA (b. 1946), RED HANKIE #1, 2004. Screenprint in colours on wove paper, the full sheet; signed, titled, dated, and numbered 8/25; sheet 22 x 30 in — 55.9 x 76.2 cm. Estimate $4,000-$5,000

To make the artwork selections, we put together committees for each decade of the studio’s history and reviewed every print to decide what would be accessioned into the new collection. Even this process was an incredible way to bring work to light that had been kept in drawers for years, discuss it, and discover the breadth of work that was created at the studio. At the end of the project, we created video interviews with committee members that now act as an oral history of Open Studio that can be carried into the future.

There were meticulous handwritten records of the prints collected for Open Studio, but locations for the prints were not recorded and the archive was moved many times. Now that the collection is catalogued, every print has a searchable location. In many cases, two or even three editions of the same print were collected for the archive, so through this process, we have been able to get a sense of what duplicate works are represented, and therefore what we could look to release for sale with support of the artist, or their estate. In this way, the archive has now become an active means of fundraising for Open Studio, and prints find their way into new homes and collections. Our ultimate aim moving forward is to donate the catalogued collection to an institution that can provide the resources and public access to it that it deserves.

KP: Since Open Studio opened its doors in 1970, many artists have made their mark on this space. Do you have a favourite period or series of prints that the studio has witnessed over the last 50 years? 

RT: There are so many amazing prints that have been created here over the years, and it is very humbling to see the sheer amount of work that has been produced within the studio walls. In particular, I find the early years of Open Studio fascinating. They worked with some really iconic artists: Rita Letendre, Joyce Wieland, Michael Snow, Jack Bush, Vera Frenkel, Carl Beam, General Idea, Yves Gaucher, William Kurelek – it’s a real who’s who of Canadian art from that time.

KP: I understand the archive committee members were a reflection of each era of Open Studio, as a way to maintain the studio’s dedication to contemporary print. Could you tell us more about this and the history of the studio’s committee members? 

Lot 4 – Harold Klunder, RCA (b. 1943), ELDERSLIE, 1979. Lithograph in black on wove paper, with full margins; signed, titled, dated “79,” and editioned “3/3 state proof – o/s imp.”; printed by Nick Novak and Don Holman, Open Studio, Toronto; sheet 29.25 x 40.25 in — 74.3 x 102.2 cm. Estimate $1,500-$2,500

RT: It was a challenge to make sure that all knowledge bases were covered when we put the committees together. In the end, we came up with a group structure that included two artists who were active at Open Studio during that particular decade, a voice from the wider art community – be it another artist, gallerist, or curator knowledgeable about that timeframe – and a current member of the studio. Each participant brought their own knowledge, recollections, and critical eye to the review process, and the stories that came out of the act of meeting and looking through the work were incredibly enlightening. All of it helped to build this picture, not only of the past of Open Studio, but how it has evolved over the years, and how it might continue to evolve in future.

KP: Where do you see the future of printmaking with the rise of digital practices? How do you see the studio evolving, while also holding onto its history? 

RT: Printmaking is a medium that is always changing and is inexorably connected throughout history to changes in technology, methods of communication and dissemination. Increasingly, we’re seeing artists approach their work by combining both digital and analogue approaches to making. There’s very fruitful ground for both ways of working to co-exist, and it really marks the strength of print that it has so many possibilities. I also think after the pandemic there was a real desire for many people to step away from screens and create things by hand. One of the key differences in producing analogue work is the specific (often very large, and heavy!) equipment that is needed for those processes. As long as there are spaces such as Open Studio to provide access to that technical equipment, and a community to learn from, printmaking in Toronto has a bright and exciting future.

About the auction:

Waddington’s is pleased to offer eleven prints from the Open Studio print archive and publishing program, lots 1-11 in the Editions auction, along with a selection of editioned work by International and Canadian artists. Highlights include works by Keith Haring, David Hockney, Helen Frankenthaler, Christopher Wool, Roy Lichtenstein, Sonia Delaunay, Bridget Riley, Sol Lewitt, Yoshimoto Nara, Brice Marden, Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Alex Colville, Jack Bush, Jean Paul Riopelle, Alfred Pellan, Michael Snow, Christopher Pratt, Rita Letendre, Guido Molinaro, Mary Pratt and more.

Please contact us for more information.

The auction is offered online April 20 – 25.

Public previews will be held at our Toronto location:
Sunday, April 21 from noon to 4 pm
Monday, April 22 from 10 am to 5 pm
Tuesday, April 23 from 10 am to 5 pm

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