Yoshitomo Nara first came to the art world’s attention in the 1990s as a leading figure in Japan’s rising Pop Art movement. Known for cartoon-like and stylised figures, his work is heavily influenced by the manga and anime cartoons he watched as a child in the 1960s, and the influx of Western popular culture in Japan, from rock music to Walt Disney animations. This set of plates, released for Nara’s 2015 Hong Kong solo exhibition Life Is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara, captures the artist’s signature style, featuring three children who, though seemingly innocent at first glance, have a mischievous glint in their eyes.
This colourful lithograph is typical of the vibrant, painterly style of Joan Miró’s prints — a medium that he returned to throughout his long career. The Spanish artist believed that printmaking enriched his work as a painter and, with their comparatively lower prices, prints also made his art more accessible. This piece was made in conjunction with the 1971 show staged in Minneapolis, Miró Sculptures: Exhibition at the Walker Art Center.
The primary focus of Ellsworth Kelly’s art is shape — in particular that of a precise, simplified form presented as a pure shape in its own right. Black, as used in the etching and aquatint above, was an important element of much of the artist’s work, for its capacity to absorb all light and reflect none. For Kelly, monochrome works were also a nod to classical printmaking. Although this image measures just 286 x 295 mm it is powerful, the white paper contrasting with the print’s black, minimalist form which appears to float as a solid in space.
Consisting of 30 etchings, Mother and Child was Henry Moore’s last great printmaking project — the final work printed in 1986, just a few months before his death. The motif of the mother and child was one that preoccupied the artist throughout his life, surpassed only by his infatuation with the reclining female form. For Moore, the relationship was one that was eternal and unending, the artist describing the idea of ‘the larger form in a protective relationship with the smaller form’. This particular work, with the child sitting on the mother’s shoulders, and the soft, warm colours, has a playful charm that makes it particularly endearing.
Although he is known primarily as a graffiti and street artist, Banksy’s printed editions have become increasingly popular in the last few years. Renowned for his subversive social and political commentary, he has become one of the most readily recognised artists of his generation. At first glance this depiction of two grandmothers knitting is less rebellious than his other works. Closer inspection, however, reveals the artist’s dark humour at play — the jumpers emblazoned with the slogans ‘Thug for life’ and ‘Punk’s not dead’.
The second Spanish artist to feature on this list, Eduardo Chillida demonstrates that the only limiting factors in printmaking are the imagination and skill of the artist. Chillida initially trained as an architect but gave up after three years to pursue a career as an artist, whereupon he produced works on paper and monumental sculptures in iron and stone. Printmaking formed a significant part of his output, and he explored techniques including etching, lithography and woodcut. His skill, as demonstrated here, was to translate the texture and weight of his sculpture into graphic works.
Tracey Emin emerged as one of the best-known and most controversial figures of the Young British Artists (YBA) movement in the 1990s, renowned both for her capacity to shock and for her diverse approach to materials and processes. The monotype — a medium that sits between traditional drawing and printmaking — forms an important part of her creative output. Typical of her works of the mid-90s, the above print explores Emin’s experiences and awakenings while growing up in Margate.
Robert Indiana is closely associated with the American Pop Art movement of the 1950s and ’60s, creating works that explore mass culture through instantly recognisable imagery — and in doing so, elevating commonplace objects, symbols and celebrities to the status of fine art. The American Dream No.2 consists of bold, simple and iconic images that, while celebrating the idea of the American dream, might also be considered a critique of unabashed consumerism.
Arguably the greatest printmaker of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso returned to the medium throughout his life. Printmaking offered seemingly endless opportunities for experimentation and innovation, and he approached projects with voracious energy. This lithograph provides a wonderful example: shown here in its final, published state, the image had no fewer than 17 earlier iterations, developing from a figurative to an abstract depiction of two women.
It is rare to see a work by Andy Warhol that focuses not on consumerism and popular culture, but on a traditional genre of art history — the still life. Veering from the subjects typically associated with the American Pop Art movement, this work takes inspiration from the shadows cast by sliced cantaloupes. Working with the printer Rupert Jasen Smith, Warhol placed pieces of the fruit, lit at an angle, on white paper and photographed the compositions. From these photographs he made his selection to be used as the screenprinted image. His focus was not just on the fruit, but the space it occupied — hence the title Space Fruit: Still Lifes.
The circus became fundamental to the work of Marc Chagall, who was captivated by its bright lights and colours, and its ability to unite the real and the imaginary. This plate, from the Cirque portfolio, wonderfully captures the artist’s fascination the subject: filled with brilliant colour and exuberant activity, it exudes dynamism, excitement and magic.
Stik began his career as a street artist in 2001, painting monumental murals on the walls of Hackney in east London. He went on to generate worldwide acclaim for works that take the unassuming stick figure and invest it with meaning and emotional weight. His screenprints might lack the scale of his murals, but they are no less impactful. At times his work — so simple and bleak — has a sense of melancholy or loneliness. In Liberty, however, the figure on the bright yellow background conveys a sense of optimism and triumph.