Ali Sahmel’s Pegasus Prints is pushing silkscreens into new territories and creating alternative avenues for women in the art world.
Meet Ali Sahmel, one of the only women in the world who privately owns a fine art silkscreen studio. Please let us know if there are any others, because we couldn’t find them. This silkscreen studio that Sahmel opened at the beginning of 2020, named Pegasus Prints, happens to be formerly owned by recently retired Alexander Heinrici. Heincrici famously printed for Andy Warhol, Williem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Indiana, Jasper Johns, Damien Hirst, Donald Baechler and many more. Heinrici was acclaimed throughout the art world for his techniques and it’s now Sahmel’s turn to push screen printing into new territories. It’s only been two months since Pegasus Prints opened shop, and Sahmel is already working with Nate Lowman, Lucien Smith, Ella Kruglyanskaya, and John Newsom.
Most for-profit fine art printmaking studios are owned by men. Historically, women have integrated themselves into the printmaking industry through government funding, universities, and nonprofits. One example is June Wayne’s Tamarind Institute, which championed lithography and which was funded by the Ford Foundation before being funded by the University of New Mexico. Another example is Barbara Neustadt, who founded the Pleiades Press. The Pleiades Press is based at the University of Central Missouri and also receives support from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Missouri Arts Council. K.Carracio, founded by Kathy Caraccio in 1977, is one of the few exceptions, a self-funded institution, running its practice with over a hundred interns.
The Printshop in NYC’s Lower East Side was founded by artist and educator Eleanor Magid and it’s funded by artist memberships and several donors. Many people prefer communal, self-service atmospheres like The Printshop’s, mostly because this is the only way people have access to printmaking outside of academia or grants. In a quote on The Printshop’s website by Kiki Smith, she says, “For me as an artist, I’m not interested in having a studio. I don’t want a studio; I think the idea of individual people owning lots of equipment for making sculpture is really anachronistic. I much prefer the models of the print world or the glass world: collective shops where you own equipment together or somebody owns it all and you can rent. For myself, I would like short-term rental of the studio.”
What’s actually anachronistic about individuals owning their own equipment is that they’re all men, except Sahmel. Also, because of incredible artists like Kiki Smith, it’s becoming antiquated to consider printmaking as a secondary process for artists to create. Historically, artists are primarily known for their work in other mediums, then they make prints as they become more known to further disseminate their practice with others. Now that printmaking is becoming more incorporated into artist practices, artists need more than just printmakers with mechanical competence to make quality art, they need skilled communicators.
What Sahmel brings to the contemporary art world through screen printing is more than a technical understanding of the medium, as a painter, printmaker, and chromist for over 15 years. During our conversation with Sahmel, she frames, “I learn from the artists and their skill sets. I navigate each print with an artist and establish a level of communication that fits their needs. I study their work for days, deconstructing and reconstructing their image. I also learn where each artist has been with their career and where they want to go.” From her first screen print in Shepard Fairy’s backyard barn studio when she was 19 years old to the 213 color prints she’s made for Chuck Close (which take 2–3 years to make), she’s developed unique, strong relationships with countless artists and their visions.
Sahmel never hesitates to credit her influences, such as Evelyn and David Lasry of Two Palms, where Sahmel worked for over 10 years, as instrumental in developing her current working methods. Sahmel believes Two Palms to be like, “family and mentors—they’re great to their employees and artists.” Another significant influence for Sahmel would be Ruth Lingen who owns Line Press, a print studio that specializes in artist books. Through her work at Two Palms and Pace Prints, she’s worked with Mel Bochner, Cecily Brown, Elizabeth Peyton, Terry Winters, Chris Ofili, Peter Doig, David Row among others. Sahmel was working for Two Palms when Alexander Heinrici contacted her about being his chromist. When Sahmel followed up after their initial meeting, Heinrici let her know he was retiring and it was then that she inquired about purchasing the estate. Even though Heinrici is retired now and his studio is now hers, he still visits periodically to see what she’s working on. Sahmel says, “It was the right time. I needed something different and was ready to do my own thing. When Heinrici visits, he’s like a father figure. He still walks into the studio like it’s his and he’s excited to see what’s happening.”
When we asked Sahmel who she wants to collaborate with at Pegasus Prints, she reveals, “Now that I have my own studio, I can be involved in everything and I want to work with everyone: the young, the dead, and mid-late career artists. From underrepresented artists to Judy Chicago to Minna Citron’s estate. Working with all of these artists is the dream.”
Who we study affects our perception of a medium and it’s clear that women’s contributions to printmaking are undervalued and undocumented. However, it’s impossible to ignore what Ali Sahmel of Pegasus Prints is doing now.