AMERICAN PRINTMAKING MILESTONES
The International Print Exhibition – US and Japan has been organized to facilitate a critical view about the role of printmaking in contemporary art by looking at the collaborative printmaking efforts of five American workshops in relation to the world of Japanese printmaking achievement. This view supports the fact that American studios have attracted a wide range of artists since increasingly artists have embraced printmaking processes as an integral part of interdisciplinary practice. Along with waves of minimalism, conceptual and installation art, the field of print studios in America experienced a tremendous growth in the late 1960’s through the early 1980’s that continues in the 21st century. The canon of recognized artists as established by the authorities of cultural institutions, has opened up to allow diverse and exciting surveys of artists involved in printmaking. The International Print Exhibition US and Japan allows us to see how this open field and each one of these American studios have contributed meaning in traditional printmaking to extend innovation in visual art.
Tamarind Institute in New Mexico, SOLO Impression in New York, Paulson Press in California, Pyramid Atlantic in Maryland and Segura Publishing in Arizona opened to offer professional workspace, technical services for editioning prints, collecting services to artists at various career stages, emerging connoisseurs, print enthusiasts, and collectors at all levels. In these studios, artists, with or without printmaking skills, are provided with technical assistance, financial support, time and studio access to explore printmaking and complete a new body of work. Experimentation and exploration of new materials and processes are encouraged.
While observing the history of the American exhibiting print studios it is fitting to reflect upon antecedents for collaborative practice that led to contemporary works. Significant antecedents, for example, include Japanese woodblock printmaking production studios such as the flourishing ukiyo-e schools where the teacher student relationship formed a tradition for the work. Many students who studied under noted printers became famous artists of the Japanese woodblock printmaking tradition. In these studio settings, basically the printer was realizing the artist’s sketch, rather than collaborating as an artist/printer. Within a publishing context, the publisher ordered the drawing that was then used by the carver to create the blocks, then printed by the printer. The publisher acted as an intermediary between the production experts and this was a different type of collaboration – a production process solely, and without the exchange we find later in contemporary studios where the artist and printer work together to find a new form of expression.
Collaboration in making prints has existed practically since the beginning of printmaking in the 14th to 16th century in Europe. In fourteenth century Europe, woodcut prints became a popular way to distribute Christian images to the common people. In the fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s printed Bible ushered in a whole new era of literacy. At the height of his career, the Dutch artist Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640) employed a small army of printmakers to reproduce his works, thereby increasing his reach and fame throughout Europe. Rubens' close collaboration with these artists and their experiments in printmaking was the subject of Rubens and His Printmakers, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Getty Center, July 5–September 24, 2006. Rubens' strict control of the reproductive process resulted in exceptionally expressive images that boldly translated the essence of the master's works. The innovative techniques developed to evoke the tonal qualities of Rubens' style contributed significantly to the advancement of printmaking - and were practiced well into the 19th century. As processes became more complex, more artists began to work in printshops with professional facilities and the expertise of a “Master Printer.”
The late nineteenth century saw the rise of the artist-printmaker in Europe and the United States. Whether working independently or collaboratively with master printers, these artist-printmakers helped to firmly establish their medium within the artistic canon. Seminal figures within the nineteenth century include Turner, Whistler, Blake, Degas, Cassatt, and Goya. Artist-printmakers in the first half of the twentieth century include legends such as Chagall, Matisse, Munch, Picasso, Miro, Arp, Ernst, Dali, Kollwitz, Beckmann, Barlach, Kandinsky, Klee, Hopper, and other Americans.
Added to this movement the re-kindling of hand papermaking as an artistic approach also emerged in the late 60’s. Several studios including Pyramid Atlantic have employed hand papermaking in many of its collaborative productions to expand the significance of the substrate of paper as effective in the process of making the image with various print applications. Others included in the exhibition have carefully selected specialized papers, often from Asia, for the enhancement of print processes.
In Printmaking; History and Process, the classically acknowledged book by Donald Saff and Deli Sacilatto, the authors say the following “Few inventions in the history of civilization have played such a role in the evolution of thought as the development of printed images. The cultural impact of printing was without parallel until our own age of computers, photography and mass communications.”
With the added concept of collaboration in the visual arts in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, printmaking practice in particular has altered our concept of an artist from a lone genius to that of an entrepreneur conversant with sophisticated teamwork. Printmaking is now trusted and valued as an artistic medium with unique aesthetic and technical qualities. Contemporary artists embrace cross-fertilization that occurs in professional studios with peers from related disciplines. It is as commonplace today as it was in past centuries for successful artists to seek studio assistance for help with creative as well as complicated tasks.
The printmaking “renaissance” in America that has allowed the rich fruitful relationship between master printers and important artists took full bloom with Tatiana Grossman, Universal Limited Artists Editions (ULAE), a Long Island New York studio started in the late fifties. Her determination for excellence no matter how long the project would take produced featured editions by Motherwell, Johns, Rauschenberg, Frankenthaler, Marisol, Hartigan, Dine, Rosenquist, Twombly and Rivers.
In1960 Tamarind Institute was established under the leadership of June Wayne, and gave leadership to rejuvenate the art of lithography and elevate the legitimacy of all print media. The Institute initiated the training of master printers such as Ken Tyler (who went on to Gemini studio), and Irwin Hollander, who first worked with Robert Motherwell; and also Jack Lemon who went on to establish Landfall Press. Tamarind worked with many important artists from East coast to West coast creating an outstanding archive of prints between 1960-70. In 1966 Gemini studios was founded in Los Angeles, and over the years has collaborated with more than 60 highly accomplished artists in lithography, etching, screen printing, woodcut and a variety of sculptural materials. Master printer Ken Tyler left Gemini to create his own path with studios first in New York and later on in Singapore. He has provided, among many artists, long-time technical support for the creation of prints by Frank Stella. Since 1967, the two men have maintained a close relationship as collaborators in numerous art works that have proven to be pioneering in the field of graphic art.
In her 2002 catalog about Chuck Close: Process and Collaboration, curator Terrie Sultan discusses Close’s making of a woodcut tiled EMMA produced with the Japanese craftsman Yasuyuki Shibata. Close agreed that he had to relinquish a lot of control, in keeping with the centuries-old tradition of Japanese printmaking collaboration. Close continues numerous print collaborations as a primary model for removing the concept that the artist works by himself taking responsibility for the whole process.
As today’s artist-printmakers work with time-honored hand processes, often in communal printmaking workshops that foster collaboration and innovation, they build on the rich traditions of their artistic forebears. There is much to be contemplated in the modern art /print scene. SOLO Impression takes a collaborative approach working closely with the artist to develop their images to their fullest. The printers guide the artist through sometimes-unfamiliar territory, acquainting the artist with the multitude of possibilities, suggesting innovative and experimental techniques. Director Judith Solodkin, however, is also very clear that SOLO Impression is a business and the print process is necessarily a means to an end. She regards each print project as a benchmark that helps her to determine new directions that will be successful. Project decisions and the nature of the fine art/print business live side by side. SOLO Impression participates in many print fairs and maintains a gallery that showcases production in a competitive field. Solodkin expresses her feelings about the challenges of running a print business by saying: “like a musician, you do not want to give up your expertise, and in one’s life time there is no time to learn another instrument…so favorable consequences or not, I am very committed to what I do and to the artists with whom I work, for each new project.” Recent projects with Joyce Kozloff, Elaine Reichak (digital embroidery and thread on book paper), and ongoing projects with Louise Bourgeois establish the risk-taking vision of SOLO Impression.
The Segura Publishing Company focuses on print processes that further the creative possibilities for photographers and conceptual artists who use photography. The press is highly invested in 19th century photo print processes, since several artists it publishes such as James Turrell and Vik Muniz are bridging current trends with historical techniques to do their work. Equally important is the director Joe Segura’s interest in political and social statements and Hispanic artist works. Major museums such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and the Achenbach Museum, California, have evolved to feature interest in these subject areas, and critical writings have followed that support the vision of Segura’s Publishing activities. Segura emphasizes his interest in working by his own definitions, selecting artists who are open to discoveries that are not solely about printmaking technique. At Segura Publishing, the conceptual element carries the weight of the collaboration and works are created about expression evolving from diverse points of view. Because the press works on a continuing basis with their artists, their collaborations are evolving a new understanding about content and image between artist and printer.
Paulson Press’s philosophy to facilitate rather than direct an artist, has created a dynamic environment where artists can do their best work. Innovations grow in response to what the artist wants; how they experience a new hands-on sensibility from making marks to exploring plates and paper. The Paulson Press studio becomes the artist's studio where the artist can choose his or her own approach with process and material. Partners Renee Bott and Pam Paulson have an on-going conversation about the artists they consider. Their goal is to work with artists who have a mature vision and who have found their artistic identity, thereby creating a solid foundation for their program. The directors watch the work of artists for several years and often look toward the suggestions given by artists with whom they have worked. This organic approach has led to a strong alliance with several West Coast artists. The seed money for the business was raised by the sale of two prints by Richard Diebenkorn who both Renee and Pam worked with in their days at Crown Point Press. Paulson Press supports all of its endeavors through the sale of prints. One third of all sales pay for the cost of projects, and the remainder is split 50/50 between the artist and the studio. Recent innovative projects have included rich aquatint prints made with quilters from Gee's Bend, chine colle’ aquatint etchings on wood panels by Chris Ballantyne; and large aquatint prints with string by Caio Fonseca. All attribute to the unique canon of work that is produced at Paulson Press. Artists return often to work at the press so that keen observers, collectors and curators can enjoy tracking the progress of both the artists and the press over the years.
Pyramid Atlantic’s aim to foster experimentation, innovation, and collaboration, while pushing the boundaries of traditional print and paper media, is enhanced with a visiting artist lecture series and exhibition schedule for artists who contribute their vision in the studios. As a not-for-profit studio, Pyramid Atlantic’s print projects may receive funding from federal and state agencies, therefore requiring program integration, final reporting and sharing of the edition produced with each artist project. Enlivened by those conditions, print projects often include the local and national community through artist talks, traveling exhibitions and partnership efforts with other shops. In 1990, Pyramid Atlantic partnered with the Rutgers Center for Innovative Prints and Paper, the Lower Eastside Printshop and the Philadelphia Print Center to create a Mid-Atlantic consortium for the project “Crossing Over/Changing Places” directed by curator Jane M. Farmer. For two years artists from central Europe came to the consortium shops to create new work, each in one particular shop, and then move between the shops to give talks and appreciate other approaches to printmaking. From 1993 to 1997 after a six-year traveling schedule to sixteen countries abroad, the works of the project were shown at its final venue, the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. Funded by the United States Information Agency, private foundations, individuals and the participating shops themselves, this type of international exchange offers dynamic opportunities for the printmaking world and also a considerable obligation for the small not-for-profits that however are strengthened by working together. Artists Ken Aptekar, Benito Huerta and Andrew Raftery represent the diverse threads of narrative works that appear in Pyramid’s residency print projects.
Tamarind’s diverse activities envelop a broad range of activities that include research, education, and creative collaborative projects with artists. Affiliated with the College of Fine Arts, the research component of its programs has played an important role in stimulating lithography in the U.S. Workshops for lithographers compliment a formal educational program–the only one of its kind in the world–for the training of master printers. The Institute is highly credited with pioneering an effective model for international artistic collaboration due to its initiative in cultural exchange projects. In Tamarind’s studios, opportunities to explore lithography and to interact with artists and art professionals from other countries enrich the participants and expand the boundaries of contemporary printmaking. The people-to-people relationships and information exchanges between the master printers and artists, as well as the local and international community is highlighted by several recent projects. One included four artists from Botswana and four different Native American participants to focus on their mutual “trickster” traditions. A second included hosting artists from each of the former republics of Yugoslavia with funding from the Trust for Mutual Understanding. Workshops on specialized techniques such as Aluminum Plate lithography include participants from many different countries allowing them to exchange ideas and forge long-term professional relationships. The grants that support these projects do not cover overhead and salaries. They offer a means to pursue the integration of educational, social and artistic goals that enrich the other aspects of the tamarind program. Artists who are invited to collaborate with Tamarind master printers can explore the extensive expressive possibilities of lithography, while creating prints that provide a revenue stream for them as well as for Tamarind. Like all of the shops in the exhibition, Tamarind too, depends heavily on the sale of prints to survive and grow. Currently they are in the midst of a $5 million capital campaign for the renovation of a new facility for their studios.
In his essay Printmaking since the 1960’s: The Conflicts between Process and Expression curator and historian Richard Field starts with the “explosion in prints in the sixties” and completes his essay with the prevalent overtones of naturalism and lyrical abstraction in the eighties, in what he defines as “an eclectic era”. His intention was first to regard mass communication’s role versus the underlying role of print media as a “critique of contemporary popular culture”.
“ By definition most prints are postmodern. Their very essence as well as their history makes them first and foremost vehicles of communication. As (William) Ivins points out, the notion of an “exactly repeatable visual statement” offered Western society the perfect model for scientific investigation; it is an idea that still informs the deepest appeal of the print…. Just as the photograph revealed the fictions of the print – networks of lines and granular dots, as well as the inescapable fact that it is a drawn image and thus presents a personal point of view – so television has unmasked the limits of the photograph – its fixed often subjective point of view, its lack of text, its vulnerability to darkroom, and its unperceived but very real physical and chemical determinants. The camera as an instrument that both distanced and appropriated, mirrored a scientific, rational culture’s wish to separate the external, objective world from that which we think of as inner, personal, and emotional sphere. While painting since Manet and much of modern printmaking have undertaken to portray a world in which nothing is fixed….”
This non-fixed 21st century diversity of subject and means evolved in the projects by these print studios illustrates the continuing power of the print. They find near perfection in digitally manipulated imagery that is carried back to the hand print. They also see extension of media onto a wide range of substrates, transparency and layering of every color, shape, texture and design and mixes of print quality that carries us beyond media-analysis. The emphasis of collaborative invention has moved imagery away from post modernism to fields of unique narration, expanded creative vocabulary, versatile technical wizardry, and conceptually broad and visionary statements.
As well, all of the American studios represented in The International Print Exhibition – Us and Japan gradually have become leading internationally recognized printmaking centers dedicated to the production, preservation and promotion of contemporary original fine art prints with a priority to support artists in the development of their professional endeavors. They all hold great respect for the idea of producing original artworks in a multiple form and they have developed significant print archives. They represent the vanguard in the collective attitude of making art. They take on the challenges of the business of prints as publishers, both for profit and not-for-profit. Many significant icons of contemporary art have evolved from their deep commitment for appreciating artists, printers, and the field of publishing as groundbreaking elements for endless new explorations and success.
With The International Print Exhibition – Us and Japan, these American studios exhibit an integral and special breed of artists supported by master printers and papermakers who in the flurry of creating reputable print projects have not only forged exhibitions that make visible the world of graphic arts but also contribute to contemporary mainstream art. Perhaps Marcel Duchamp expresses it best: I am interested in ideas, not merely in visual products.
Helen C. Frederick, Director Pyramid Atlantic