Rolling in the Deep

Printmaker revels in new artistic opportunities and community

Hanging with Minerva and Persephone: Denise Markbreit of Asheville Print Studio.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

Minerva and Persephone are the ruling deities of Denise Markbreit’s Asheville Print Studio, at Riverview Station in the city’s River Arts District. Minerva is the imposing press that’s the workhorse of the studio, while Persephone is a smaller machine used for more modestly sized projects. Both took up residence just over three years ago, when Markbreit moved to Asheville from Flushing, Queens, after retiring from a long career working in New York City schools. “It’s been a whirlwind of activity and life changes,” Markbreit says of the last three years. “I knew I was home and ready to start my second career.”

Perseverance
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Her first career, as an art teacher, was impressive enough, born of a childhood immersion in painting and craft making. “Some of my fondest childhood memories were spent during Sunday afternoon painting sessions with my Dad, using oil paint and table easels in the kitchen with my sisters,” she remembers. “The smell of turpentine and linseed oil brings me back to those sweet times.” 

She discovered printmaking in high school, at first using drypoint intaglio and then moving on to lino cuts, still the entry-level process for budding printmakers. “I loved the repetitive nature of the processes and the physicality of printing,” Markbreit says of those early days, followed by study at New York’s School of Visual Arts and the Rochester Institute of Technology. “The print and sculpture studios were places where people often worked in small groups to achieve one person’s vision, and assisted with the processes and physical needs. There was a sense of community and camaraderie.” 

In the Hive Mind
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Markbreit has carried that communal spirit to her Asheville studio, which she shares with four other women, and, on a more limited basis during COVID times, with students on a one-to-one basis or in small groups of four.

Universal Passage
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Although woodworking, welded metal sculpture, stained glass and fabric art are all part of Markbreit’s portfolio, she considers herself a printmaker first. Monoprinting — the most painterly of printing methods — is one of her favored techniques. “I like to think of monoprinting as like jazz,” she says. “It’s very improvisational. I approach each series of monoprints with a very loose idea and see what the ink, rollers, assorted tools, and rags bring to the image. The first print pulled is darkest, and subsequent prints are ‘ghost’ images and much lighter.” 

Denise creating a print in her studio.
Photo by Rachel Pressley

But these later prints in the series can then be worked with watercolor or pastels and reincarnated as works of art in their own right. Less well known is a type of wood-based lithography called Mokulito, which Markbreit discovered just before moving to Asheville. “It’s similar to traditional stone lithography in that an image is fixed to the wood with a nontoxic process, with lots of inking, wiping, and re-inking,” she explains. Using wood instead of stone for lithograph plates has the advantage in lighter weight, price, and storage.

 “But,” Markbreit adds, “it makes for a physically demanding and intense printing day that needs to be impeccably planned out, and much coffee is needed.” 

Growth & Movement
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Her imagery is as varied as the techniques she uses to produce it, ranging from delicate nature studies to urban landscapes and abstract collages, drawing inspiration from such diverse sources as Georgia O’Keeffe, Joseph Cornell, Matisse, and Hokusai. 

Like Honey to a Bee
Photo by Rachel Pressley

In practical matters, she feels particularly indebted to the printmaker Susan Rostow, who developed a type of soy-based, nontoxic ink — a godsend when Markbreit began developing respiratory problems from the solvents and chemicals commonly used. The reaction was severe enough that Markbreit had given up printmaking as an art form until discovering Rostow’s process.

Noble Beauty II
Photo by Rachel Pressley

Now happily embarked on a new stage in her artmaking career, she feels fortunate to have found Asheville’s supportive, dynamic arts scene. “The community has welcomed me in,” she says, “and many of the artists here have become family to me. It’s like no other place I have ever been.”

Denise Markbreit, Asheville Print Studio in Riverview Station, 191 Lyman St. #224, ashevilleprintstudio.com For more information about the artist, see denisemarkbreit.com. Asheville Print Studio participates in the River Arts District’s Second Saturday open-house series each month, with demonstrations and exhibits of studio members’ work; check the events section of riverartsdistrict.com for updates.