Embracing the unexpected: Experimental printmaker explores dualities in Fargo exhibit

Chelsea Odden demonstrates her creative process in her studio at APT, a Creative Incubator, in downtown Fargo. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership
Chelsea Odden demonstrates her creative process in her studio at APT, a Creative Incubator, in downtown Fargo. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts PartnershipChelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership

FARGO — “There is nothing you can see that is not a flower; there is nothing you can think that is not the moon.”

Local printmaker Chelsea Odden discovered this poem by 17th century Japanese poet Matsuo Basho during a letterpress class at North Dakota State University last summer.

Little did she know those two captivating lines would become the primary inspiration for her solo exhibit called “Things We Cannot See,” now open at the Spirit Room, 111 Broadway N., through Dec. 29.

“I began working off of that poem and thinking about dualities,” Odden says of her inspiration. “It reminds me of opposition, whether that’s sky and earth, the imagined and not-imagined or the physical and the spiritual.”

“Things We Cannot See” at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo showcases a handful of Chelsea Odden’s signature abstract, monochromatic prints through Dec. 29. Chelsea Odden / Special to The Forum
“Things We Cannot See” at the Spirit Room in downtown Fargo showcases a handful of Chelsea Odden’s signature abstract, monochromatic prints through Dec. 29. Chelsea Odden / Special to The ForumChelsea Odden / Special to The Forum

This is not the first time the Fargo-based artist and art educator has experimented with dualities in her work. In fact, contrast is one of the primary characteristics of her signature black-and-white contemporary prints she creates with a combination of traditional printmaking methods.

“Things We Cannot See” exhibits eight pieces that invite viewers to contemplate Basho’s prose as they get lost in Odden’s abstract compositions.

Two of the pieces have a flower and a moon, which are direct inspirations from the poem. The rest were an offshoot of the poem because her work “expanded a little past that inspiration,” she says.

Finding beauty

Creating the same image repeatedly is a cornerstone of printmaking, but Odden likes to make her “own rules and follow them” in her creative process by making unique, uncontrolled prints each time.

In her studio at APT, a Creative Incubator, in downtown Fargo, Odden demonstrates her process by applying a thick layer of sticky black ink to two plates of glass with a brayer. When asked why she mainly works with black, she smiles.

“I think it simplifies choices,” she says with a chuckle. “I love color, but I honestly find a lot of beauty in carbon black ink.”

Chelsea Odden finds “a lot of beauty” in using carbon black ink in her work. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership
Chelsea Odden finds “a lot of beauty” in using carbon black ink in her work. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts PartnershipChelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership

After she covers the inked surface with a large white sheet of printmaking paper, she draws numerous horizontal marks on the back of the paper with a pencil — a method she calls “language of mark.”

As she peels the sheet off of the ink, an image with long black streaks and a hazy gray background emerges on the opposite side, revealing a road map of the various degrees of pressure she applied to the paper.

“I enjoy embracing the unexpected in the printmaking process,” Odden says. “Usually this unexpected aspect is considered a downfall of the process, (but) when I approach the printmaking processes from a mark-making view, those unexpected surprises of value and texture become visually engaging and interesting.”

Chelsea Odden reveals the result of her uncontrolled printmaking approach in her Fargo studio. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership
Chelsea Odden reveals the result of her uncontrolled printmaking approach in her Fargo studio. Chelsey Ewen / The Arts PartnershipChelsey Ewen / The Arts Partnership

Odden grew up in Fargo and earned her undergrad degree in art education from Minnesota State University Moorhead and a master's in art education from the Maryland Institute College of Art.

She now teaches art at Fargo's Davies High School and has taught visual art in Fargo for more than 10 years. She cites her students as some of her primary creative influences among faculty members, cohorts from grad school and fellow artists at APT, a Creative Incubator.

“Things We Cannot See” is her first solo exhibition in the area that will run alongside Linda Whitney’s “Regala — Details” mezzotint print exhibit honoring indigenous people of our region.

“Having two strong, talented, female printmakers exhibiting at the same time turned this into a truly complete exhibition,” says Hollie DeFrancisco, gallery manager at the Spirit Room. “The two have a somewhat similar print style, (so) it’s almost as if they have an unknowing collaboration between them.”

Odden looks forward to seeing how the public responds to her work and hopes to open people’s minds to a “new combination of printmaking,” she says.

A free public reception for “Things We Cannot See” takes place from 6 – 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 15, at the Spirit Room. For more information on Chelsea Odden, visit chelseaodden.com.

If you go

What: “Things We Cannot See” exhibit by printmaker Chelsea Odden

When: 1 to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, now through Dec. 29

Where: The Spirit Room, 111 Broadway N., Fargo

Info: Admission is free

This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.