Aaron Cohick: Pressing for Change

The Press, Colorado College’s letterpress studio, works to create and educate students on the art of book and printmaking. Located in Taylor Hall, between Bemis Hall and Taylor Theater, this innovative space provides students with an introduction to the working practice of the book arts. Aaron Cohick, the printer of The Press, discusses the studio, his classes, and the current art exhibition, AMPLIFY & MULTIPLY: Recent Printed Activist Ephemera, running through the end of Block Seven in the Coburn Gallery.

Photo by Daniel Sarché

Cohick found his love for printmaking when he was a student at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Although initially introduced to the book arts because it was a class requirement; he described “walking into something that I had been looking for for a long time, which was a way to combine my interests in visual art and creative writing. I also found printing processes, and the way it all worked and the kind of repetitive, meditative labor of it, really appealing to me.”

Cohick has worked as the printer of The Press at CC since August 2010. He teaches two annual blocks through the Art Department, and is currently teaching an introduction course on the “Book and Book Structure.” His class integrates both the design and the making of books and is taught in conjunction with a visiting professor. This block, California artist and visiting professor, Macy Chadwick, focuses the class on the creation of artist books by incorporating creative writing and imagery into printmaking. A summer block on the foundations of book arts is also offered at The Press.

The Press works with any class at the college that feels the letterpress studio could augment their coursework. Beginning Fiction Writing often utilizes the space for an interdisciplinary printing project. Other classes may visit for a one-day demonstration of  the printing press to view their functionality in both a historic and modern context. Cohick’s apprentice, junior Amelia Atencio, visited the press in her FYE, Civilization in the West: Books, Beasts, and Human Beings. “It was during this visit that I fell in love with the materiality of books. It was a mixture of typesetting, pulling prints and probably the cleaning solvents that excited me about letterpress printing. I could not have ended up in a better FYE,” said Atencio.

Following the recent Fine Arts Center Alliance, Cohick plans to teach a community workshop, administered through the Bemis Art School. He hopes to make The Press, and its resources, more accessible to the Colorado Springs community. Although The Press is a working studio, it functions in collaboration with students and the larger community. “I am the steward of this place, but it does not belong to me. I am here to act as a catalyst or facilitator for people to come in and use the equipment, and the different kind of shapes that take,” Cohick explains.

Cohick encourages his students to increase their involvement with The Press outside of the traditional class. Paid apprentices assist Cohick in the production and publication of artists’ books, as well as the  printing of campus event posters. Atencio attended Cohick’s recent trip to CODEX, an international books arts fair in Berkeley, Calif. through a venture grant.  “I was exploring the possibilities of books as art objects and searching for books to propose to Special Collections to acquire. In fact, fourteen of the books I selected are being purchased for the collection and will be available for viewing in Block 8,” Atencio noted.

Although printmaking is an ancient art, Cohick works to ensure the art and practice of printmaking is relevant in a contemporary context. “The processes that we use here are about 500 years old and the presses are about 50 years old, but what we do isn’t about like a kind of nostalgia or an anachronistic, ‘this is how we did it in the old days.’ It’s about what we can learn from those process. The way that they redirect and refocus our attention because of their particular strengths and limitations,” he explains. Viewing printmaking through this lens ensures its relevancy and application to other forms of media.

Under Cohick’s leadership, The Press has participated in several forms of socially engaged printmaking, the most recent being the current art exhibition, AMPLIFY & MULTIPLY: Recent Printed Activist Ephemera. Cohick noted his inspirations for the show. “After the election at the end of last year, and leading into the inauguration and the woman’s marches, I was seeing all the signs that people had made in protest,” he said. “And also all the videos, during the airport protests. People on their phones but just panning through the crowd, and you see all the people and all the signs. Seeing that, and then coupled with, through Instagram and Facebook, seeing all these printers that I knew from all over printing posters in acts of protest. I thought: ‘Wow, it would great to put these two together.’”

Following these observations, Cohick put out an open call for the show, looking for social activist or protest-related print art created in the last six months. He specifically requested art that was deployed for actual use, hoping that the exhibition would be, “in itself, an act of resistance.” Over 150 artists from all over the world submitted pieces in resistance of racism, misogyny, and other forms of oppression. “I was awe-struck by the humility of the artists, most of whom donated their work for the show,” Atencio said.

Cohick has facilitated other forms of social activist printing as well. The first was for the Waldo Canyon Fire—in which the profits supported the Red Cross—followed by the posters supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

The 2016 Election spurred similar forms of action. The Press distributed 700 of its “The Work Continues” posters in three days. Following this success, Cohick reached out to Ladyfingers Letterpress to increase print distribution in support of the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, Inside/Out Youth Services, The Black Educators Network of El Paso County, and the NAACP in Colorado Springs. “In the face of events of such magnitude, what can you do?” Cohick asked, ” and one of the best things to do is actually just do what you do, and then figure out how to push it towards helping in some sort of way.” 

To learn more about The Press at Colorado College, visit the art exhibition AMPLIFY & MULTIPLY: Recent Printed Activist Ephemera in the Coburn Gallery through the end of Block 7.

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