Down a long, winding dirt road, deep in the woods of South Truro, lies the studio and home of printmaker Vicky Tomayko. She has lived and worked there surrounded by pine trees, bird songs, and crickets chirping for the past 25 years. Tomayko, a Fine Arts Work Center fellow in 1985-86 who returned to the Outer Cape to stay, would not choose to live anywhere else.
“I grew up in a city, Detroit,” she says, “and knew from a very young age that I wanted to live in nature. My mom used to let me garden in the back yard, but it was very much a city back yard with an alley and, beyond that, streets.”
Much of Tomayko’s inspiration for her prints comes initially from the forms and patterns she sees around her in the natural world. “I walk a lot,” she says, “and images come to me from looking at little bugs on plants and things like that.” In Tomayko’s studio, the perfectly preserved body of a cricket lies on a table. She touches him gently with her finger and asks, “Isn’t he beautiful?”
Tomayko’s prints, part of a group show opening at the Schoolhouse Gallery on Friday, include images of insects, leaves, blossoms, water plants, and microscopic creatures. Her work in the exhibit carries the enigmatic title “I Don’t Expect You to Understand,” taken from one of the pieces included.
“I hope not to give away all the mystery,” she says. “I prefer that viewers get what they want out of my work and maybe see something they have never seen before.”
Discovery is an essential part of Tomayko’s creative process. “When you make a print, except for silkscreen, it reverses,” she says. “So, you start with an image and then, because it’s backwards, there’s something fresh and unexpected, and that inspires you to see something new. Then I react to what happened on the print, what the paper looks like when it comes out. My prints are very layered, and that space between printing, looking, and going through another process works well with my brain. I need that time, and the process is fun for me.”
Tomayko’s openness to experimentation has earned her a reputation for being an innovator. She describes a combination of printing processes that she came up with: “I make a drypoint etching, then take the same plate after I print the black line, roll it up with a solid color, and wipe away, very carefully with Q-tips, everything that I don’t want to print. Then I print the color from the same plate right on top. So, it’s a monoprint, but it’s also an etching.”
In addition to her own work, Tomayko spends a large portion of her time teaching, and has remained involved at FAWC as the print shop manager and mentor to fellows. Her role as a teacher, Tomayko says, is something she “sorely misses” since the Covid-19 crisis. “Sometimes I teach six days a week, so this is a very different life for me,” she says.
Tomayko doesn’t see teaching as something that takes time away from her own art. “When I teach, I try to keep an open mind and always do something fresh,” she says. “It’s not a good thing for me to repeat something I’ve already done.” Tomayko is drawn to the beginner’s mindset and an innocent approach to printmaking. Experimenting with her students often opens her eyes to something new that she might then try in her own work.
For example, the print Take Me to the River, which Tomayko worked on for 18 months, started as a demonstration for one of her classes. “Once you have a couple of ideas, you just keep playing with them,” she says. “I came out with this decorative thing that I just couldn’t solve. It was just pretty, so pretty. So, I kept working on it, because I wanted it to have some substance, some character. Now I’m happy with it.”
For Tomayko, there should be many sides to a beautiful picture. “I am very much into color, and try to make my pieces appealing and delightful,” she says. “Yet there are always things in the imagery or in the making of the piece that feel a little edgy and not as delightful as the color might have you suspect.”
That certainly applies to Paradise, a monoprint in her new show. It’s part of an ongoing collaboration she has had with writer Joanne Barkan and will be published in the upcoming issue of Provincetown Arts. Chris Busa, the magazine’s editorial director (who unexpectedly died last week) asked “if we would do a piece about the arrival of the Pilgrims,” Tomayko says. “My idea was that this is paradise, but that everything in paradise is about to change drastically. And today, for me, that idea is still with us, that we think we can do whatever we want to the animals, the plants, everything.”
The pieces Tomayko picked for her show at Schoolhouse are intentionally “more joyful,” she says. It’s not about escapism — she believes that now, more than ever, we need to see and learn from the natural world in order to make our own, human world a better place to live in.
The event: “I Don’t Expect You to Understand,” an exhibit of Vicky Tomayko prints; part of the group show “Proximate”
The time: Friday, July 3, through July 19
The place: Schoolhouse Gallery, 494 Commercial St.; gallery open by appointment only, 508-487-4800 or galleryschoolhouse.com
The cost: Free