Printmaking artists share their stories and inspirations in new Overture Galleries exhibits

Lesley Numbers & Carlos Barberena headshots

“We need to try to understand issues like climate change, immigration and social justice and work to make things better.”

Overture Galleries’ 2022 winter/spring exhibitions honor the work of printmaking artists and coincide with the Southern Graphic Council International’s printmaking conference held this spring in Madison, bringing together over 1,000 printmakers and arts professionals in all stages of their careers.

According to SGCI, “Printmaking can deepen our understanding of the world, inherently challenge systems of oppression and push against histories of colonization, unwarranted violence and systemic racism. Artists share in the responsibility to shape our future.”

Lesley Anne Numbers, Dog is Alive, Magic is Afoot

In Gallery III, Madisonian Lesley Numbers introduces her series of reductive woodblock prints, titled Dog is Alive, Magic is Afoot. The series was inspired by daily nature hikes with her family during the pandemic.

“The prints I created express gratitude for the abundance and beauty that still exist in our world,” said Numbers. “They are a glimpse at the natural spaces that nourished me and my loved ones during a tumultuous time. They are a celebration of pandemic puppies, quarantine gardens, healing herbs, ancestral altars, few rules and more play.”

Numbers has been making art and enjoying arts experiences since childhood. Post high school, she began studying art therapy at New York University, then took some time off from college. During this break, she participated in a couple of printmaking classes, which resonated with her over the years.

She returned to Madison where she received a Bachelor of Science degree in Arts Education and began teaching art in the community, including at the Monroe Street Art Center. Years later, motherhood became a turning point in her life.

“When I got pregnant with my daughter, something opened up in me, and I started producing my own work,” said Numbers.

When she felt she’d reached the extent of her capabilities, she enrolled again at UW-Madison to pursue a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking, which she earned in spring 2021.

There are several methods of printmaking used in creating images, as demonstrated in the wide array of pieces in Overture Galleries’ winter/spring exhibits. Numbers focuses on wood block printing.

“All of my pieces in this exhibit are carved wood blocks with a lot of color,” she said. “I print a color, carve out the white, print another color, and so on. What remains above the surface is pressed ink. When I’m done, there’s very little raised wood.”

Traditionally, this type of work takes several layers of ink, causing it to be time consuming. As a mother and full-time teacher at Woodland Montessori School, Numbers decided to expedite the process by laying multiple colors at once. This resulted in monoprints, the color spreading uniquely each time.

Dog is Alive, Magic is Afoot features 15 pieces. Numbers enjoys creating themes based on musical passages and poems. This body of work plays off Leonard Cohen’s poem God is Alive, Magic is Afoot from his book Beautiful Losers.

Numbers had a lot of fun creating the series, completed over a five-month period early last year. She is excited to share her work with the community.

“I hope my show brings viewers a sense of wonder and joy. We all can use that right now,” she said.

Lesley Numbers Website

Carlos Barberena, Refusing Erasure

Across the hall from Numbers’ exhibit in Gallery III, contemporary Nicaraguan printmaker Carlos Barberena makes his Madison debut with Refusing Erasure.

“In my art, I have consistently reflected the cycles of repression and resistance and their relationship to the diaspora in which I have lived, throughout dictatorship, revolution, erasure, renewal, hope and repression,” said Barberena. “My prints center these types of life experiences occurring far beyond my country.”

Barberena was exposed often to the arts while growing up in Nicaragua and loved to draw and paint. At age 13, he moved with his family to Costa Rica to escape the war in Nicaragua. Despite the similar culture, Barberena experienced discrimination as an immigrant and refugee. He tried to express his feelings through art.

Years later, he became an artist-in-residence in Mexico, still doing mostly drawings and paintings but becoming more interested in printmaking. In 2008, Barberena and his wife moved to Chicago, where he joined Expressions Graphics, a nonprofit printmaking cooperative and fine arts gallery. This volunteer-operated working press shop gave Barberena the space to make prints and collaborate with other artists.

“Now I have a printmaking network and more opportunities to exchange ideas and show my work in different cities and counties,” he said.

Barberena’s printmaking process starts with an idea about an issue he wants to address, usually from his history in Nicaragua, experience as an immigrant and refugee, and move to the U.S. He makes a sketch and reworks it as his idea becomes more concrete. Then he translates the drawing to a block and starts carving and printing.

“The time to complete a piece depends on the detail of the image. Carving big works may be faster than a smaller, more intricate one,” he explained. “It’s very difficult, focused work. One mistake and I need to start again.”

Barberena created 22 pieces for his exhibit at Overture Center, a range of small and big pieces, some printed on shopping bags and others framed.

“This series creates awareness of essential workers and why they’re essential,” he said. “It honors them yet shows how labeling some people as essential sets them up to be exploited, working more than 12 hours a day, unable to stand up for themselves for fear of deportation.”

Barberena and Numbers encourage you to visit Overture Galleries to view and converse about the printmaking exhibits.

“We need to try to understand issues like climate change, immigration and social justice and work to make things better,” said Barberena.

Carlos Barberena Website

Exhibits run through Sunday, April 17, 2022. Artist Talks will take place at the Galleries Reception on Thursday, March 17 from 4-6 p.m. Overture Center is open Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday, noon to 6 p.m. and extended hours on event days. View health and safety requirements at

Overture Galleries are sponsored by The Arts Access Fund, a component fund of the Madison Community Foundation and by contributions to Overture Center for the Arts.

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