The Big Ass Steamroller Printmaking Fest welcomes artist Sean Starwars back to Westchester

By Michael Aushenker

“Sober Up,” a recent 22-inch by 30-inch woodcut print by Sean Starwars

“Sober Up,” a recent 22-inch by 30-inch woodcut print by Sean Starwars

After a three-year hiatus, The Big Ass Steamroller Printmaking Fest — a printmaking and pancakes party — returns today to the Otis College of Art and Design campus in Westchester, led by the star of the inaugural 2011 festival: veteran woodcutter Sean Starwars.

Working in a playful, popular folk art style seemingly lifted from comic books, the Virginia native is no longer restrained by his gimmicky surname. Despite an early career obsession with a certain filmmaker’s Darths, droids and AT-AT Walkers and frequent Spider-Man and Pac-Man allusions, Starwars these days also creates images of psychotic circus clowns, wayward hillbillies and the alligators, amphibians and birds of the Mississippi resident’s Deep South environs. Think serial killer art meets the world of cartoons. A reviewer once described his art as what might be seen in a suspect’s home on the reality show “Cops.”

“I don’t really stop and think about what I’m doing,” Starwars said of his art, “and if I do, I don’t think I would be able to justify what I’m doing because a lot of times I’m not really doing anything new.”

What Starwars does is give found imagery his own oddball spin, deriving inspiration from anachronistic advertisements in old Life, Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s magazines plucked from antique and thrift stores as well as wonky hand-made characters from school-side murals and funky business signs.

“California is such a special place for that. Everywhere you turn, you’re seeing fun stuff,” he said, citing, for example, the Western Exterminator guy — with the top hat, shades and mallet behind his back — chiding a rat.

Participants in the Otis festival are encouraged to bring carved blocks and paper, with organizers helping to ink and print them, or to bring a block to carve. Starwars will be carving and discussing his art.

Starwars said he enjoyed the company (and the pancakes) last time around and was touched when Otis students presented him with a poster-size print of the alligator-riding-a-steamroller logo he had created for 2011’s festival. He relished “that community experience where people who don’t know how to make this learn very quickly [and then] teach people one minute into the experience.”

The woodcut artist, who also teaches high school in Heidelberg, Miss., remains enamored with printmaking and will not be picking up a paint brush anytime soon.

“Some people want to sample the buffet, but I’m kind of obsessed with the fact that there are only a finite number of woodcuts I will be able to make in my life,” he said.

The Big Ass Steamroller Printmaking Fest is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Otis College of Art and Design, 9045 Lincoln Blvd., Westchester. The event and the pancakes are free. Call (310) 665-6800 or visit otis.edu.

michael(at)argonautnews.com

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