Multiple perspectives: How printmaking allows artists to see their work in a new way
It takes (at least) two to tango when it comes to printmaking. Artists often approach the print studio with an idea of tackling either formal or conceptual issues, but they require the expertise of a master printer to help them identify the right process — etching, aquatint, silkscreen, or woodcut, to name but a few. For some — Henri Matisse and art publisher Tériade, for example — such a partnership can result in groundbreaking innovations which might set an artist off in entirely new directions.
‘One of the most exciting things is what happens when an artist connects with a great printer,’ confirms Judy Hecker, executive director of International Print Center New York. ‘Julie Mehretu, for example, is a painter on a grand scale, but she always goes back to the print studio. Collaborating with different master printers, who bring their own expertise and vocabulary to the table, in various studios, she gets very different results from the finished pieces.’
Acting as a resource for artists to find such collaborators is one part of IPCNY’s mission, which also acts as a hub for the extraordinarily far-reaching print community, encompassing artists, publishers, collectors and curators.
Christie’s is proud to host a special online auction celebrating International Print Center New York’s 15th anniversary. The sale, which benefits a newly established fund for IPCNY’s future, features works donated by artists, publishers, galleries and collectors who have supported IPCNY, and includes pieces by Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cecily Brown, Christopher Wool, Jasper Johns, Beatriz Milhazes and Ellsworth Kelly. We spoke to some of those connected to the Center to learn more about their shared obsession.
What is it about prints that led you to engage with the medium?
Leslie J. Garfield, collector: While assigned to the US Forces in Germany in 1954, I went to an art gallery in Munich and saw a 1917 Erich Heckel woodcut based on Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot. The price was $55, which was too much money at the time. On my way back to the base the image stayed with me, and I thought that if the print were still in the gallery when I went back to Munich within the month, I would buy it. It was almost a major psychoanalytic breakthrough.
Evelyn Day Lasry, co-founder of Two Palms: Roberta Smith’s New York Times review of the Museum of Modern Art show Edgar Degas: A Strange New Beauty, refers to the monotype as ‘the most seductive of all print mediums’. She goes on to say, ‘Among print mediums, and perhaps all works on paper, monotypes were and remain hotbeds of spontaneity and improvisation.’ Spontaneity, improvisation, the potential for sequential thinking, large scale, extreme physicality — these attributes provide artists with an opportunity to see their work in a new way.
Roberta Waddell, curator: I discovered the graphic arts while working on my dissertation on a late 19th-century American artist-craftsman, Will Bradley. His striking posters advertised everything from magazines and books to bicycles and tobacco. I responded to their vitality and accessibility; these posters were truly art for the people. It brought home to me that prints were democratic.
Terry Winters, artist: Each medium is a different instrument and each printmaking technique opens new avenues for exploration and new possibilities to generate pictures. Prints are singular and original works capable of being editioned as multiples. That’s a real bonus.
What are the most exciting aspects of creating prints and editions?
Terry Winters: It’s a challenge. The method is indirect and forces a higher degree of intention. It necessitates a series of transfers and reversals that complicate the working process. I enjoy that difficulty — or find it useful. Printing gives me some distance from my paintings and drawings and helps me see them in new ways. Prints are deliberately built, step-by-step, and that awareness has affected the way I approach all my work. And it’s exciting to collaborate — to work with other people and to have that energy and expertise available. It’s a contrast to my painting studio, where I work alone.
Evelyn Day Lasry: It’s a privilege to work with some of the most accomplished artists alive today. Not many people get to see an artist at work, much less become involved in the process.
And what excites you most about collecting prints?
Roberta Waddell: As a curator of an institutional print collection, the New York Public Library, I was responsible for acquisitions ranging from the late 15th century to the present. It was always exciting to track down an Old Master print to fill a major gap in the collection or to find an eloquent example of the work of a particular artist. However, acquiring contemporary prints often offered me the special opportunity to investigate traditional and innovative techniques and the creative process itself.
Leslie J. Garfield: I’ve been exposed to new artists by great printmakers and publishers, and I’m not disappointed with anything I’ve ever bought. The only thing I’ve ever sold is a Cyril Power print that my wife and I bought in London. As soon as the transaction was complete, I realised it seemed a little too familiar. When we got back to New York, the piece was waiting for us. I took it up to the room where I keep British prints and sure enough, I already owned it. I called a good dealer friend and she sold it for me. But it was a mistake that wasn’t a mistake because it was a vindication of my commitment to the work.
What does a focused print centre add to the dialogue, and to the community?
Roberta Waddell: Due to increasing rents, rather than an aesthetic choice, prints had become more and more invisible in New York galleries. For artists, printers and publishers, IPCNY’s New Prints program has been a critical force in making their work visible. The Center has consistently invited, as jurors, individuals who bring a variety of viewpoints and experience to the table, and has sensitively exhibited the chosen work. The openings give the artists a voice and a chance to discuss their work while networking with art-world people.
Leslie J. Garfield: Initially there was some hesitation on the part of dealers to get involved because they thought it would be competition, but it isn’t competition. It’s about outreach and education. You make a lot of friends and it’s great to talk art.
Terry Winters: There’s a degree of innovation and intelligence that can only come from a focused practice. So it’s good that artists continue to make prints — in all the traditional methods, but also with new digital technologies. To that end, it’s important to have an institution centred on the exhibition and promotion of the print medium. And it’s an important public resource.
Evelyn Day Lasry: The print medium is an essential part of all our artists’ activities. It is equally essential for artists to be able to find inspiration by looking at prints and to have a place to exhibit them. IPCNY does more in terms of public outreach and education than any other print organisation around.
Discover works by post-war and contemporary art's most iconic artists including Roy Lichtenstein, Ed Ruscha, Cecily Brown, Jasper Johns, Beatriz Milhazes, Ellsworth Kelly and more in Christie’s IPCNY 15th Anniversary Auction, 19–28 April.