PRINTtEXT's new series of visual art installations 

What do a periodical shop and visual artists have in common? Syntax.

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Alice Tippit is part of an exhibition called Syntax Season, a series of solo shows by eight artists running into February 12, 2017 at PRINTtEXT. These shows feature a mix of artists from Indianapolis, Chicago and elsewhere. And while Tippit is from Chi-Town, her paintings seem at home in this exhibition space. Maybe this is because the curators Elisabeth Smith and Michael Milano moved to Indy from Chicago just last year. Or maybe it has something to do with the atmosphere of PRINTtEXT itself.

Walking into PRINTtEXT, you won't find the stuff you usually find in stores that sell magazines, such as cigars and lottery tickets. And the periodicals sold here — piled high on tables instead of sequestered in magazine racks — aren't the kind of magazines you find in grocery stores, like Rolling Stone, Time and Vogue. The magazines that you do find, like MC1R, (a magazine for redheads) and neptún (the bilingual Icelandic art and design magazine), are periodicals with comparatively tiny and — hopefully — devoted readerships.

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But PRINTtEXT, which is owned and operated by Ben and Janneane Blevins, is more than a periodical shop. It's a print shop (the periodical Didactic is printed here), a place for poetry readings, as well as a gallery space. So it's no surprise that the aesthetic of the art and the periodicals — along with the general vibe of the place — blend together like, well, text on a page.

One of Tippit's seven paintings, "Cover" features a stylized, simplified portrayal of what looks like the pages of a book opening around a pair of what could be human breasts. Another painting features a black V against a pink background. But from that V a banana suggestively pops out. Is this syntactical? Is it anatomical? Is it both?

This enigmatic quality is something that Tippit strives for.

"After I graduated from undergrad I did text-based work," says Tippit. "It's really hard to create something enigmatic when you start introducing words. They read it and they're done."

So Tippit started to create paintings that hinted at the syntax of language but didn't quite spell anything out.

"It's really making just image-based work but that still deals with language," she says. "It's clear, it looks very readable. And there can be [stuff] that feels like language. They are images but when you put them together you get a feeling of sentences or grammatical constructions..."

Tippit, 41, started art school at 30. She received her bachelor's and her MFA both at the Art Institute of Chicago. Her graduate advisor was Barbara Rossi, one of the original Chicago Imagists, a group of artists interested in representational painting, in surrealism and fantasy. This group gained renown in the late 1960s.

But Tippit's work, which may be somewhat influenced by the Chicago Imagists, also complements the often playful work of a number of Indianapolis artists, including that of Nathaniel Russell who was featured in Syntax Season in May 2016.

"Alice was one of the first artists that we thought of for this series," says curator Michael Milano. "She's a good example of someone whose ... repeating motifs seem to function like language."

Tippit was a natural for this particular show, according to co-curator Elisabeth Smith.

When Smith and Milano came to Indianapolis, they met Ben and Janneane Blevins, saw their PRINTtEXT space, and it appealed to them. Plans for a multi-artist exhibition started to take shape.

Tippit is the fourth artist in Syntax Season, and her solo show lasts until Sept. 25. (Among the upcoming Syntax artists is Kay Rosen, whose palindromic, text-based work can be found at the IMA.)

Looking at Tippit's work, you might just think that this is stuff that linguists like Noam Chomsky might appreciate.

"I remember, when we were first thinking about Alice's work for this show, we were thinking of Noam Chomsky's famous line: 'colorless green ideas sleep furiously,' says Elisabeth Smith. "Which grammatically is one hundred percent solid. But if you actually deconstruct that sentence, it just syntactically doesn't make sense. So there's something about that sentence that applies to Alice's work. Visually everything makes sense, but then the closer you read it visually, the more it seems to deconstruct."

Tippit's work will be on display until Sept. 25 at PRINTtEXT.

(Editor's Note: This article was graciously boosted on social media by Gregory's Russian Restaurant. Gregory's Russian Restaurant had no input on the content in this article or the decision to create it.)

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