For centuries, printmaking was a means of duplicating drawings and paintings. However, by the end of the 19th century, artists were creating etchings, lithographs, engravings, and woodcuts that were unique expressions, not reproductions of drawings or paintings. Even prints created through a process that had the potential for making duplicates were individual enough to be numbered separately. As the artist June Wayne once explained to me, a print is a work of art with a lot of siblings.
Two friends of mine, Reba and Dave Williams, recently donated a portion of their vast collection of original prints to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and turned over the administration of the Print Research Foundation to the NGA. They asked me to help sell the remaining exhibition catalogs published on selections from their collection, and those are now available at reduced prices through the Interweave Online Store. These well illustrated publications are valuable surveys of American screen prints, prints by Mexican muralists, forgotten etchers, and prints by African-American Artists.
Among the artists who developed printmaking techniques that were totally unrelated to drawing and painting was Stanley William Hayter (1901–1988), a British artist who invented what is generally referred to as viscosity printing. The process involves using a deeply bitten etching place that can be used to print a number of different colors by varying the amount of plate oil added to the etching ink and the density of the rollers used to apply the ink. The resulting prints aren’t copies of drawings or paintings. Rather, they are unique works of art with no direct correlation to images produced in other media.
The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, is currently presenting an exhibition of 55 Hayter prints in a show titled “Stanley William Hayter: From Surrealism to Abstraction,” on view through August 30. The range of Hayter's artwork in the exhibition includes his early black-and-white surrealist engravings, outstanding examples of his technical innovations, unique proofs and color variations, late linear abstractions inspired by motion and mathematics, and fully worked copperplates and plaster casts, which he deemed artistic creations in their own right. The exhibition also includes a select group of prints by some of the best-known artists to work at his print workshop, Atelier 17, including Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Jackson Pollock.
Contemporary printmakers are continuing to explore creative options despite the confusion in the field of printmaking caused by the introduction of giclée and other computer-generated processes. For example, Anthony Kirk has been working with a number of artists at his Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut, who appreciated the way Legion Paper’s new Revere printmaking papers lend individuality to intaglio, relief, and screen-printed images. For more information on these recent developments, read the article in the September issue of American Artist (you can download a free PDF of the article here).
In my opinion, original prints haven’t received the attention they deserve. I’d like very much to hear from those of you who are still involved in creating intaglio, relief, screen, or lithographic prints on your own or in collaboration with a master printer.