Art that’s meant to be run over

Around 20 artists' carved panels will make it or break it - to print, that is, this weekend.

Around 20 artists’ carved panels will make it or break it – to print, that is, this weekend.

A heavy construction steamroller will run over their pieces to print their carved four-foot wood designs on a giant piece of paper by pressing ink between the sheet and wood.

A sheet of foamy cushion and another piece of plywood will be placed in between the Stonehenge rag drawing paper and wood to protect the carved panel. Once the machine rolls over the paper and wood, an inked version of the artist’s designs will be revealed after lifting the cushion and protective plank off.

The steamrolling arts event is aptly named “Art Under Pressure” and is the first of its kind to launch in Whitehorse. It will take place this weekend.

But it’s not a first for North and South America. San Francisco will be holding its 10th annual Roadworks Steamroller Printing Festival this year in its ritzy neighborhood of Portrero Hill, amidst local food and fine craft vendors.

Local artist Joyce Majiski wanted to bring the event to Whitehorse after seeing a friend participate in a steamroller arts event in Mazatlan, Mexico. The Mexican artists carved images of skulls and flowers on wood blocks for the Day of the Dead.

Having returned from her trip, Majiski asked fellow artists in town if they wanted to have their pieces steamrolled and printed. “The more people I told, the more people got excited … more than had the time to do it,” she said in amusement, as the artists had only two months to carve out their designs.

As the artists are a mixture of graphic designers, printmakers, sculptors, and painters, Majiski did not create a theme for the event to give them free rein on what to print.

Looking at the artists’ pictures of their carving progress on their Facebook event page, there does seem to be a theme emerging: captivating sightings in the Yukon. So far, they have carved images of mountain ranges, a ship, an owl, and fishes onto their 48-by-40-inch birch plywood blocks.

Though a staunch critic of the Conservative Party, Linda Leon chose not to be quite so political with her art this time. Her piece features two fish swimming towards a watershed. “I try to do things that are more positive, like beautiful fish,” she said, laughing.

Leon said she joined the event as an opportunity to showcase her work. Also, the idea stood out to her. “I couldn’t resist. It’s so magnificent and absurd,” she said.

Majiski also hopes to debunk misconceptions about printmaking by making the event public. The word print is “thrown around” too much because we live in a digital world, she said.

“(A digital reproduction) is arm’s length from what the artist did. As an artist, I ink the plate, I print the plate, and every single one is something I’ve done by hand. That’s a different thing than popping it out of your computer,” she said.

That’s why she wants to bring back relief printing, wherein the protruding surface of a printing plate or block are inked, and etched parts are left blank. This forces the artists to “think in reverse,” Majiski said.

The pieces are also so large because steamrolling the prints allows for a bigger size, she said.

Indeed, it seems the artists are working under a go-big-or-go-home motto. Local construction company Skookum Asphalt will be lending the artists a driver and a two-and-half ton steamroller for the event.

The company has a history of supporting arts and community development, but it’s the first time equipment will actually be part of an arts project, said the company’s division manager, Chris Simons.

Leon is delighted to see the vast machine used for a different purpose. “Highways are so important here and for a steamroller to be used to make art, it’s very exciting,” she said. The artists will not know if the construction vehicle will end up crushing the wood, she said, laughing.

The inked sheets will be hung up around Shipyards Park to dry, weather permitting. The artists are looking into displaying the prints in the Yukon Arts Centre in September.

The event runs from Friday, Aug. 9 to Sunday, Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. For more information, contact Joyce Majiski at jmajiski@gmail.com

Contact Krystle Alarcon at

krystlea@yukon-news.com