George Cornwell is an artist's artist. He works with technical proficiency as a screenprinter and it's an understatement to say that Cornwell has an eye for details. Cornwell's caliber of work has led to him collaborating with the "who's-who" of Jacksonville creatives, including artists such as Jim Draper, Shaun Thurston, Crystal Floyd, Chip Southworth, Margete Griffin, Overstreet Ducasse, and Roosevelt Watson III, and organizations such as Long Road Projects.
Cornwell entered the world of fine art in 1987 while living in New York City. In his first role as a screenprinter he worked under Jackson Lowell at Chromacomp Inc., located in midtown Manhattan. Chromacomp focused on creating limited edition, highly collectable prints. During his time spent with the company, Cornwell printed the work of art deco pioneer Erté and commercial artist Thomas McKnight, whose work sells for tens-of-thousands of dollars.
As Cornwell advanced in his career he transitioned to printing for Noblet Serigraphie, the shop of Jean-Yves Noblet. There he focused on contemporary fine art prints. Cornwell later transitioned to Willco Fine Art, another New York based studio, where he printed and proofed for Bill Wollad.
Cornwell relocated to Jacksonville in 2005. It was at this time that Cornwell established his own shop, George Cornwell Fine Art. Cornwell holds residence at CoRK Arts District, an 80,000 square foot creative space composed of artist studios and galleries. Cornwell has worked from his studio space in CoRK since the initial opening of the West Gallery in 2011.
Cornwell is committed to investing in his community. And he succeeds in his efforts. His focus as an artist is not "how can this benefit me," but instead Cornwell looks for opportunities in which he can serve others.
10 Questions with George Cornwell
How do you define success in what you do?
At this point, client satisfaction indicates if a print is successful. My clients are artists and I enjoy the collaborative process. Even as a seasoned printer, I'm always working to learn new printing techniques. I do this so I can widen the scope of services that I offer to the creative community.
Do you have any patterns, routines, or habits when you start a new project?
I start by consulting with the artist so that I have a better understanding of what they wish to accomplish through screenpriting and the production of fine art prints. For fine art prints, it is important that I have an opportunity to review the piece that I will be reproducing.
I've widened my services to offer artists a more direct approach to creating fine art itself. This has been working out very well. An example of this approach can be found in the exhibit "Humanity: The Value of a Life," which is on display at the Karples Manuscript Library until April 27, 2017.
What have you learned about yourself from your career in the arts?
I've learned to be patient and openminded with the process. I've also learned to provide artists with options as it relates to processes.
Being a fine art screen printer is more than just pulling a squeegee. What do you feel is the most underrated skill related to printing that's also the most challenging to develop?
The mixing of color and how it impacts the composition of a piece is often overlooked. It requires precision to get the right color when mixing pigments. How colors are layered is also very important because it leads to secondary colors and shading.
I have the ability to speak the language of color with an artist. This is something I see as a strong asset and knowledge that I can share when working with other artists.
How has printing changed after society progressed into the digital age?
Digital screen printing is much easier than traditional analog processes. Screenprinters are now able to offer clients so many more options because of digital advancements.
With digital advancements comes a certain level of convenience. It's important, however, that printers don't allow convenience to overshadow technique. There is value in a printer understanding the analog process and being able to implement certain techniques that may not be required when working with digital technology.
Many of your clients are artists. Artists are used to being a part of the creative process. How do you involve your clients in the act of creating a print and are there some processes that offer more opportunities for artist involvement than others?
It depends on the artist and what they're looking for. I've worked with some artists in the past that don't really care to be involved in the process. This is because they have confidence in my ability as a printer. I've worked with other artists who want to be on top of the process, which is fine.
It is more common for an artist to be involved in the process when we collaborate to produce an original artwork through the use of screen printing. I'm glad to say that these collaborations have worked out very well.
When you finish a piece it's not typically sold as a George Cornwell. Instead, it's sold or collected as a piece by the artist by whom you were commissioned. Is this ever challenging for your ego? Additionally, what does it mean to you as a screen printer to have some of Jacksonville's best artists turn to you when they need something printed?
For me it's not challenging in the least. Each of my prints are embossed with the seal of my printing shop. That in itself is very rewarding. I'm humbled by my work and those with whom I work.
Jacksonville artists are sometimes underrated and I'm incredibly flattered when they turn to me for help. Creating art is their passion. When they ask me to collaborate on a project they are asking me to be a part of their passion.
We have a great community of fine artists here in Jacksonville. Somehow this community operates largely off the radar, which is a travesty. In the past year, however, we have seen unprecedented advances in Jacksonville's fine art community. I have been watching it for years and I have always been confidant that it would eventually yield success.
Your long term partner is also an artist. In addition to sharing a studio the two of you have also played in bands together. How has being involved with an artist influenced your career in the arts?
My partner is Noli Novak. She is an illustrator who has worked for the Wall Street Journal creating stippled portraits since 1987. Noli's involvement in my career has been immeasurable. Her mastery of technique furnishes me with a special ability that many other printers don't have. An appreciation of technique is something we both promote amongst our community of artists.
Collaboration is a large part of what you do. What collaborations are you currently working on and what do you look for in a collaborative project?
I recently finished a collaboration with Mal Jones and Overstreet Ducasse. The collaboration between the three of us blew our houses down. I'll soon be working with Princess Rashid on her abstract printing. I'm very excited to work with her.
When I approach a collaboration I try to form an understanding of what my fellow artist is looking for - what they're trying to accomplish through the screenprinting process. When we consult on a project I'm careful to respect their thoughts and desired outcomes. When artists embark on a collaborative journey it is important that they stay on the same wave length, and often times this can only be achieved through honest communication.
Your career in the arts spans multiple generations. Do you think Jacksonville has an artistic identity? If yes, what is it? If no, how can Jacksonville's creative community work together to develop one?
I think Jacksonville does have a identity. It is influenced by history, geography, and the character of the landscape. I find the city's identity to be very underrated, or at the least under acknowledged. There is a younger generation emerging in the creative community and they are putting a lot of energy behind their work. This really excites me. The development of artists can play an immense role in helping develop and promote a city's identity.
It's important that we recognize the racial segregation of our not-so-distant past and transcend beyond it. It wasn't until recently that we started to have honest conversations surrounding topics that aren't always easy to discuss, such as equality and discrimination. The African American community of Jacksonville is an absolute treasure and many individuals from Jacksonville have played important roles in the progression of human rights. This particular situation is the one unique factor that stands to separate Jacksonville from other cities. I feel strongly that Jacksonville has a bright future.