CU Boulder acquires a major trove of modern art.
Queen Elizabeth had just traveled the Tube, the first reigning British monarch to ride it.
The Tate released 90 pigeons in honor of Picasso’s 90th birthday.
The Beatles split up, but the Rolling Stones were still packing Wembley’s Empire Pool.
This was London in the early 1970s, and Bud Shark had come to make art.
“We arrived during the heyday of swinging London,” said Shark, then in his mid-20s and soon to found a celebrated Colorado printmaking studio with his wife and fellow artist, Barbara.
Over four years in Britain, the Sharks participated in a revival of fine art printmaking, learning new techniques and working with the likes of David Hockney. The experience set the stage for Shark’s Lithography, established on Bluff Street in Boulder in 1976.
Now called Shark’s Ink, it emerged as one of America’s premier printmaking studios, a destination for luminaries of the form, including Red Grooms, John Buck, Robert Kushner, Betty Woodman and Hung Liu. Major museums in New York, Chicago and San Francisco own works produced through artists’ collaborations with the Sharks. And by mid-2018, the CU Art Museum will have the greatest Shark’s Ink collection of all — the complete Sharkive, as it’s called.
In February, CU Boulder announced its purchase of the signed archival impression of every original Shark’s Ink print — about 750 original artworks — plus more than 2,000 related materials and all future works.
The nearly $1.35 million acquisition, years in the making and enabled by benefactors, is among the university’s biggest art purchases to date, and will increase the campus museum’s total holdings about 40 percent.
“This will be one of the most intact, comprehensive collections of its kind,” said museum director Sandra Firmin.
A $750,000 gift from the Kemper Family Foundations, UMB Bank Trustee provided the largest share of the cost.
CU’s acquisition of the Sharkive keeps in Colorado a major trove of modern art, and makes accessible to scholars, students and visitors one of the most thorough collections anywhere of a major printmaking studio. The thousands of ancillary items related to the artworks — sketches, photographs, color proofs, correspondence — provide a full picture of the artistic process that led to the finished art.
“Outsiders often think that art is about the object,” said ceramicist Jeanne Quinn, a CU associate professor of art, “but really art is about the process.”
Shark’s Ink’s processes will soon be an open book.
“People from around the world will want to come and study this collection,” said benefactor Sheila Kemper Dietrich, a Colorado entrepreneur whose father founded the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City and whose husband, Walter Dietrich, is a past chairman of the CU Art Museum’s advisory board. “The ways this collection can be studied are endless.”
Lithography is a printmaking technique that involves pressing layers of ink and color into paper with customized stone or metal plates. Jasper Johns, Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein and Picasso all made lithographs.
Bud Shark discovered the medium in Moorhead, Minn., near his hometown of Fargo, N.D. It was 1966 and he was a University of Wisconsin student home for winter break. Visiting a gallery where he’d taken painting classes, a new artwork caught his eye.
“It kind of looked like a drawing, but I knew it wasn’t a drawing, because the drawing wasn’t on the paper, it was in the paper,” he said. “I talked to the gallery director, who was a friend at that point, and said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘It’s a lithograph.’”
Back in Madison, Bud found a lithography course, and his life’s work.
At graduate school in New Mexico, he met two hugely influential people: Fellow art student Barbara Ball, his future wife and Shark’s Ink partner, and the rising British abstract painter Bernard Cohen.
Through a printmaking workshop called Tamarind, then in Los Angeles, Bud found he enjoyed the process and techniques of lithography as much as the design of art. Tamarind also suggested a business model in which the master printmaker co-owned the artworks with the artist and marketed them.
“That experience was what made me decide I wanted to be a collaborative printer,” Bud said.
As art school ended, Cohen connected the Sharks with a studio in London, where a printmaking revival was getting underway.
Bud remembers the years to come as intense: Colorful, demanding, eye-opening.
After the Sharks became parents, family in Colorado drew them to Boulder.
“I was pretty naïve when I opened the studio,” Bud, now 71, said in an interview at Shark’s Ink, which moved to a scenic hillside property in Lyons, Colo., in 1998. “One day I said, ‘I don’t have any work.’”
He took some contract projects “to get things rolling,” he said. But his goal was to work with artists, participating in the act of creation and jointly owning prints the Sharks would sell through dealers and galleries or directly to collectors.
Good luck struck early.
Within months, Bernard Cohen came calling. His London gallery had asked for new work. He said he’d do it, provided he could work in Boulder with the Sharks, “a huge break for us,” Bud said.
During a month-long stay, Cohen — whose prior work was the subject of a show at The Tate that same summer — produced six original lithographs. They sold through his gallery, putting the Sharks’ fledgling Colorado studio on the radar of international tastemakers.
“That was a turning point,” Bud said.
Since then, the Sharks have worked with about 160 artists of all kinds — ceramicists, painters, sculptors, filmmakers, as well as printmakers — to render their visions as prints.
For years, Barbara, a writer, painter and cook, has led production of an exhaustive Sharkive catalog. She is scheduled to publish a book about her life, art and recipes in April.
Shark’s Ink remains a busy place. Each year about a dozen invited artists come to work in the 1,800 square-foot studio, a quiet, tidy workshop with west-facing views of Mount Audubon and vast stretches of land thick with trees.
The artists — Bud favors “iconoclasts” — live with the Sharks, steps from the studio, putting in long hours over visits as long as two-weeks.
The artists conceive a design. Bud advises on color combinations, paper selection and the subtleties and hazards of lithographic technique.
“You have to think backwards and in layers,” said Firmin, the museum director. “Bud really guides artists through that.”
Bud then produces the prints — applying colors one at a time through multiple pressings for every print. After the artist signs the numbered impressions, typically 40, Bud cancels the plates, guaranteeing a limited edition.
“We don’t know what it’s going to look like until we put all the colors on together,” he said.
The final prints, which range in size from about 10-by-12 inches to 6 feet-by-6 feet, sell for between $300 and $10,000 each, depending on size, complexity and artist, Bud said.
The Sharks do it all with help from long-time assistants Roseanne Colachis, whose diverse duties include assembling three-dimensional prints, and printing assistant Evan Colbert.
“We couldn’t do what we do without them,” Bud said.
The first Shark’s Ink artworks arrived at CU in mid-winter, as curators were busy adding museum-quality storage units for the expanding collection and planning ways to make it widely accessible.
In late February, a small number of the prints are scheduled to go on display. The full collection arrives this summer, and by mid-2019, most of the Sharkive will be available for view by appointment. A major CU Art Museum exhibition is planned for 2021.
Curators are also considering future traveling mini exhibitions.
They’ll have a growing collection to choose from.
“I plan on continuing to print until I can’t anymore,” Bud said.
Opening photo by ©Getty/Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post. All artworks copyright Shark's Ink, Lyons, Colo., and courtesy Bud Shark.