Andy Warhol’s favourite silkscreen printer reveals the special skills that have led many of the biggest names in post-war American art to seek him out, and explains why he believes the medium is the ‘most immediate, painterly form of printing’
‘My main profession is to make the artist look good,’ says Alexander Heinrici, reflecting on his distinguished career as a master printer. ‘The artist is the creative element and he gives you a riddle to solve, and you solve it.’
Born in 1945 in Vienna, Heinrici opened his own printer’s workshop in 1968, where he worked with key Austrian, German and Swiss artists. One year later, having outgrown the Viennese art scene, he moved to New York where he opened a print workshop.
‘My routine was to go to Max’s Kansas City [a New York restaurant and nightclub] which was the hangout for the artists,’ he recalls. ‘Jasper Johns was my first client — it was exciting.’ Word of the printer’s talent got around, and soon enough, along came Andy Warhol. ‘He just showed up one day,’ Heinrici says.
When Warhol began to experiment with screenprinting in the 1960s, the practice was not widely used. In fact, for most of the 20th century, screenprinting techniques had been considered trade secrets, and were kept confidential. It was a lengthy process that required endless patience and a keen eye for detail. Neither was it unanimously understood as an art form: the reliance on a machine made sceptics of many whose views of art required direct contact between artist and medium.
When the two began to work together, Heinrici says, Warhol was stunned by the precision of the prints Heinrici was creating: ‘He said, “Once in a while you have to make mistakes so it looks like a Warhol!”’
Heinrici produced the ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ and ‘Jagger’ series for Warhol, and would go on to create silkscreen portraits for the artist for the next decade. In that time, Heinrici’s client list would grow to include Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Roy Lichtenstein and Robert Indiana, among many other luminaries of 20th-century American art.
‘Silkscreen is only one of a range of printing methods, but it’s the most immediate, painterly one there is,’ Heinrici explains. ‘When electronic printing came along, a lot of artists switched, as it’s much cheaper. But most artists like the flexibility of silkscreen printing because it’s very physical.’ You have to know ‘the pressure to apply, you have to have the right amount of ink — it’s very complicated.’
Heinrici’s prints have been featured in numerous gallery and museum shows, with works on display and in the collection of New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum. Most recently, he has worked Dan Colen, Nate Lowman, Julian Schnabel, Max Snow, Ross Bleckner, Damien Hirst, Aaron Young, Donald Baechler and Donald Sultan, among others.
A master innovator, Heinrici so deeply understands his materials that he is able to think creatively, merging the best of an artist’s vision with fresh, individually-tailored technical approaches. ‘Every artist has a different way of looking at things. Every time you learn another little piece, and in the end you have the full picture. It’s a feeling you have in your hands. If you’ve done it a lot, you know what to do.’
Prints from the studio of Alexander Heinrici, including works by Warhol, Peter Halley, Kenny Scharf and the Basquiat Foundation, will be offered from 17-26 October in a special online auction, Screen Star: Alexander Heinrici, Master Printer.