Sara-Jeanne Bourget and Mark Johnsen Start 'Patio Press' Virtual Residency from Inside Self-Isolation

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By Perrin Grauer

Posted on April 16, 2020 | Updated April 27, 2021, 1:59pm

The artists, who are also ECU faculty and alums, have turned a tiny East Vancouver balcony into an opportunity for fellow artists during the COVID-19 shutdown.

A pair of Emily Carr University faculty members has established a printing studio during the COVID-19 pandemic, both in response to and to cope with a new reality of distance and isolation.

Sara-Jeanne Bourget (MFA 2019) and Mark Johnsen (in the final month of his MFA at ECU) first set up shop on their 96-square-foot patio following the university’s move to online learning. Both Sara-Jeanne and Mark are sessional instructors at Emily Carr (this summer, Sara-Jeanne is teaching a Drawing: Narrative Images online course; Mark is teaching both 2nd-year and 3rd-year online courses on alternative print methods called "Traces from afar: DIY Printmaking.")

They submitted their answers for this interview as a pair, via email.

While they initially viewed the project as “a way to stay creative at home,” they quickly realized they could open the studio to other artists.

“After making our first post on Instagram, we were met with support and positivity from our immediate peers,” they wrote, noting their @patiopress Instagram account now also serves as an online gallery for what has become a “virtual residency.”

“We’ve noticed that our profile is reaching people outside of our community, which is exciting. Hearing back from others gave us the idea to offer printing services for our peers or to feature their DIY printmaking experiments.”

Sara-Jeanne and Mark’s first collaboration was a small drypoint edition for ECU alum Andrew James McKay (BFA 2019), who now lives in Ontario.

“He is our first virtual resident!” the pair wrote proudly, noting artist and ECU staff member Robin Gleason (MFA 2019) hand-printed their custom sign from inside her own self-isolation. (Neighbourhood crows occasionally stop by the East Vancouver balcony “for quality control,” they added).

A number of artists have now been contacted to complete Patio Press’s first round of “virtual residents;” once a resident’s work is printed on the small Conrad etching press, it appears in the online gallery, and the plate and prints are mailed back to the artist. Paper is currently a scarce commodity, they noted, so editions are typically small. And due to their limited space and resources, the virtual residency is currently by invite-only.

The imperative to “stay home” is affecting artist and creators everywhere. Sara-Jeanne and Mark wrote that they hope their project helps inspire others to view their mutual isolation as a time of possibility, rather than a death-knell for artistic practice. Sharing their printmaking equipment is a way to contribute to that feeling of possibility, and actually grow the artistic community while respecting the need for physical distancing, they added.

“We are lucky to have a press at home and want to share it with others whose practices are normally dependent on such equipment,” they wrote. “In doing so, we hope to broaden our network with other makers …The ultimate goal being that Patio Press can grow into something much more expansive.”

In the meantime, they say they’re holding tight and focusing on staying healthy and occupied.

“We realize that it is a tremendous privilege to fit both of our practices within these new constraints,” they wrote. “We are thankful for the distraction of making our work and printing the work of others from the comfort of our home. The press on our patio has provided a therapeutic element and an interconnected mindset during a time of a global crisis.”