April Bleakney

By Michael C. Butz

• Lives & Creates Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway neighborhood • Degrees BFA in Printmaking and BA in History, both from Kent State University

Two series of work from April Bleakney framing America’s political landscape took shape during overseas residencies in 2018.

During her two weeks at Print Shop Aguafuerta Taller in Chile and six weeks at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland, the printmaker would leave her phone turned off except for when she had access to WiFi.

“So, I was cut off from my newsfeed,” she explains. “When I’d get to WiFi, all of these notifications would pop up with an onslaught of shootings and civil liberties being threatened.”

That confluence of events helped push forward the 33-year-old’s “March Series,” which depicts scenes she photographed while participating in the 2017 Women’s March on Washington, the 2018 Women’s March on Cleveland, a 2017 anti-travel ban rally at Cleveland Hopkins International Airport and a 2018 anti-deportation rally in Cleveland.

Through her drawings of those photos and touches of watercolor, Bleakney captures the energy and emotion on display during the demonstrations. The prints, she says, are a tribute to the protesters.

Bleakney’s “Idiomatic (Body Series)” is a collection of textbook-like anatomical diagrams that take on issues like immigration, mass incarceration and President Donald Trump’s brand of politics. In each, she deftly inserts symbols to replace body parts to convey her message.

“Body Politic (White)” by April Bleakney (2018); screen print, 12½ x 19 inches.
“Body Politic (White)” by April Bleakney (2018); screen print, 12½ x 19 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

For example, in “Body Politic,” which depicts a uterus and seeks to address attacks on reproductive rights, eggs inside the ovaries take the shape of U.S. Supreme Court Justices, five on the right and four on the left. Bleakney made the piece following the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy — often a swing vote on rulings over the last decade — to signify an anticipated shift in balance likely to come with a Trump appointment to the bench.

And in “Thick Skin,” arteries branching through the skin’s dermis and subcutaneous tissue are represented by blood-red long rifles, a not-so-subtle reference to mass shootings and American gun culture.

“Thick Skin (Blu-Raspberry)” by April Bleakney (2018); screen print, 12½ x 19 inches.
“Thick Skin (Blu-Raspberry)” by April Bleakney (2018); screen print, 12½ x 19 inches. Image courtesy of the artist.

Receiving floods of news updates on her phone while abroad left her feeling “helpless” at times, Bleakney says. Back home, however, she’s better able to act – and is doing just that.

From each “March” print sold, she’s donating to a local organization. For Women’s March prints, $10 goes to Preterm, and from immigration-related prints, $10 goes to Los Niños De Corsos for children affected by the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in Sandusky. Donations aside, Bleakney hopes her art leaves viewers inspired to get involved.

“Maybe they don’t go to marches themselves,” she says, “but maybe they draw a broader inspiration to be active or remain active.” CV

Lead image: April Bleakney. Photo courtesy of the artist.

On view

April Bleakney’s work will be on view as part of “Parallel Echos,” a printmaking group show that opened Nov. 16 at Survival Kit inside 78th Street Studios, 1305 W. 80th St., Suite 303, Cleveland. Her work will also be available for viewing and purchase at Morgan Conservatory’s Morgan Market on Dec. 1-2 at 1754 E. 47th St., Cleveland; Zygote Press’ Off  the Wall Holiday Show and Sale between Dec. 8-22 at 1410 E. 30th St., Cleveland; and at Salty Not Sweet Boutique, 2074 W. 25th St., Cleveland.