Zigmunds Priede: Aggregates of Time installation view, May 5 – September 25, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf

The forced migration of humans across landscapes shaped by shifting tribal, cultural, political and religious boundaries is as old as time. Zigmunds “Zig” Priede would know. He experienced firsthand the trauma of displacement as a child from Riga, Latvia during the height of World War II. The impact of war on his refugee family has been severe, but it has taken him from a small northern European country on the Baltic Sea to the United States, where he continues to live his own life story. remarkable art as an octogenarian artist, master printer and educator.

“Zigmunds Priede: Aggregates of Time”, at the Kansas Focus Gallery of the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, marks the 60e anniversary of Priede’s decisive move to New York after his graduate studies at the University of California, Berkeley. Priede played a key role as a master printmaker at Universal Limited Art Editions where he collaborated with artistic peers like Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns to create a post-war print revival in the 1960s and 1970. The exhibition features an interesting mix of recent and ongoing work by Priede that demonstrates an impressive range of formal experimentation and symbolic visual language.

The magnum opus of the exhibition is rightly in the foreground. “Event Horizon” is a striking horizontal woodcut, rich in visual symbolism and vivid tones of blue, black and green. The central image of four finch-like birds echoes Priede’s immediate family. He balances jagged, aggressive shapes like saw blades against the softer serrations of tree leaves. The blades evoke “what was slaughtered”, a family, a way of life, a nation? Meanwhile, a curious mask of human culture hovers visibly above a circular saw blade – a lingering visual signifier of its origin, a remembrance of people and place.

Priede explores her painful family history in a haunting group of works titled “Narrative Suite: Parts I and II” in which ghostly, skeletal figures occupy chaotic landscapes of war and migration. “Part I” graphically demonstrates the artist’s skill in mixing media with sophisticated lithographic printing techniques.

A dramatic disembodied ear dominates the foreground of a dark Latvian forest scene. There, men like Priede’s father faced unimaginable choices as they fought for independence between Nazi and Soviet occupiers – never to be seen again by their families. Priede powerfully unifies the work with a single broad stroke of red paint connecting the glued printed ear to the lithographic landscape.

Zigmunds Priede: Aggregates of Time installation view, May 5 – September 25, 2022, Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art, Johnson County Community College, Overland Park, Kansas. Photo: EG Schemf

In simpler mixed media works like ‘California’ and ‘Kansas’, Priede pasted cut and torn paper over prints with restrained dabs of acrylic and watercolor overpaint. One has the impression that nothing in the workshop is thrown away and that any vestige could come into play, end up in a larger work. His ingenuity towards composition opens up new formal and interpretative possibilities.

Priede is known for proudly leaving the irregular outline of the printer’s litho stone as a framing device. This can be seen in two linked “Untitled” works, one horizontal, one vertical, which cleverly quote Jasper Johns’ famous Pop Art beer cans. Each shares the same collage of painted and geometric shapes, but when printed and oriented differently, they reveal the endless potential results offered by printmaking.

Although his work is grounded in the techniques and culture of printmaking, he constructively embraces expanded media, even scientific imagery, as seen in the complex and futuristic work “Out of Time”, or his densely illustrated homage to ancient forms of goddesses, “Augury (Regina).”

For this writer, Priede is most captivating when working in his own brand of biomorphic abstraction. The technicolor “Magical City #4” tombstone-shaped woodcut, inspired by a recurring dream, resembles a vision of the land of Oz, garishly attractive but dangerous to the uninitiated. The artwork animates the compression and dynamism of urban space through dazzling hand-painted surface patterns. It’s a nod to the fantasy of a young refugee from a post-war American land of plenty.

Many of the pieces featured in “Zigmunds Priede: Aggregates of Time” are undated, indicating long periods of development for the individual works. Over his long career, the artist has allowed his forms and symbols to accumulate relationships and meanings that only grow stronger over time. How lucky we are that Johnson County Community College brought him to the Kansas City area about 40 years ago. Pay attention to a contemporary master who continues to explore the mysteries of time, memory, place and form.

Zigmunds Priede: Aggregates of Time” continues at the Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art until September 25. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday; 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Closed on Mondays. For more information, 913. 469.3000 or www.nermanmuseum.org.