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Mikael Kihlman

I am thinking about Printmaking...
past - present - future

Short historical background

In the beginning of printmaking, and here I aim at Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, printmaking techniques was mostly used for creating books and posters, and to communicate profane or religious matters. Printmaking was used by the Church, the State, the Sciences and in a developing market for pictures. It had a more reproductive role in the community.


Ptolemaios Geographia, Map over Scandinavia, hand coloured wood cut, 1482.
Willem Janszoon Blaeu (15-71 - 1683) Atlas Novus or Terrarum sive Atlas Novus of 1635.

However, what we nowadays call Fine Art Printmaking was made by printmakers, too, like Dürer, Goya, Rembrandt etc. but it was not until the second half of the 19th century that artists really started to use printmaking techniques for expressing themselves. This cleared the way for experiments and new ways of thinking as always when artists are involved. Printmaking became a tool for making art. The result was what counted. This I believe is most important. As an artist, making art is what it is all about, and you use whatever technique, method or expression that is needed. Printmaking can be one of them. It is the result that matters!

In the second half of the 20th century printmaking techniques were used by many artists and new ways of printing, crossover and mixed techniques developed. In many countries, especially in the west, a strong market for prints developed. During the 20th century workshops with master printers came to place in most larger cities. Many artists in all disciplines co-operated with printers and produced prints for a hungry market. Picasso, Miro, Chagall just to name a few to start with and later on Warhol, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Tapies and so on.

Pablo Picasso (1881 - 1973), "Blind minotaur led by a little girl in the night", aquatint, drypoint and etching, 24,6 x 24,6 cm. plate 97 (from the Vollard Suite), 1930 - 37.

Digital - Photoshop - mixed techniques

When the digital print scene started to develop and claimed to be part of the Printmaking society it changed the rules a bit. The new printers, larger and larger in size, where easy to print any size you wanted with just a few clicks. The matrix was in the computer. In the beginning of the 21st century many galleries simply just took photos of paintings and made editions in giclée. Easy money but poor art. Did the print itself add anything to the original, did the original artwork become more "art" by this? No, definitely not. For the scene of printmaking this was, and is still simply disgusting. But why not use the computer to make real art and use it in the process? The result is what matters, remember? So many did that and it opened up a new world. Artists use what they have to reach a result; this was just another new way. Whether you label digital printmaking Printmaking or not, many have opinions about. My point of view is that is of secondary importance. If somebody asks you about the technique you simply answer the question. It is a Giclée print, or it is a C-print or it is an etching, a photopolymer, a woodcut or why not, all of them?

Outi Heiskanen & Janne Laine, Finland, "Kotiseuto/Homeland, heliogravure, aquatint, etching and drypoint, 40 x 1000 cm, 2011.

Printmaking, education and the Academies

Printmaking has not always been approved as a discipline in the fine arts. It was first in the late 18th century it started to be accepted in most higher educations. In Sweden it happened in the beginning of the 20th century. That is also when the printmaking disciplines were appointed a professor who knew and practiced printmaking himself. At the moment in Sweden we are back to the 19th century. Since more than 30 years there is no special professor for printmaking and many printmaking faculties have closed down or have very little space. Why is this so?
There are probably many reasons to this but one basic reason is that the role of the artist in the society has changed a lot. The intellectualization and conceptualization of the artist role is a fundamental change. Artistic research and the artist as an explorer of new unknown fields in society is one. The shifting importance of knowledge of the crafts towards the importance of the conceptual idea behind the work of art. If you need good craftsmanship you can pay somebody to do your idea instead. The artist does not necessarily need to master the craft him or herself. The idea and the concept is what matters.
For printmaking as an art form this is of corse a disaster. The struggle and work with the material you want to use, whether it is painting, printmaking, sculpture or some other discipline under a long period of time is what makes you find your own unique way of expressing yourself through the arts. In the beginning maybe with guidance from a teacher but later on in life all alone to find your own unique voice.

Even though printmaking in most Academies play an hidden role and in many have vanished completely, there are a few higher education institutions that put effort into developing printmaking and are supporting and teaching old and new disciplines. The Academies profiles themself in this way and attract students from all over the world through international programs. There is specialized education in printmaking in many places in the world where you can take your master degree. And since the knowledge in the crafts in such a way is concentrated to a few places the level is usually very high. Printmaking is definitely not dead; it is just searching new ways.

Printmaking and Contemporary Art

I have many colleagues who are very concerned about that the Contemporary Art Scene does not care much about printmaking. That the scenes main concern when it comes to prints, is to have their well known artists to go and do some prints with a printer so they can be sold and bring in some cash. Someone gave this kind of prints the name "Dollar Graphics". Since they usually are printed by very skilled Master printers the technical quality is very high and a lot of it is definitely very good printmaking, understand me right here. But I am reflecting on the role of prints in the Contemporary Art Scene.
What we label the Contemporary Art Scene is what we see in Contemporary Art museums and prestigious Art Fairs. But Contemporary Art is so much more than that. It is what is made now, including what is not in those mentioned places. One big reason printmaking is not there is that there is not so much money to earn from prints. The art scene today is for a small elite, a small group of rich people. They want exclusivity and special treatment. Art & Market is deeply connected with each other nowadays but it is not a happy marriage and definitely not without complications.

Printmaking is mainly for the people and has always been. That is what I like so much about this form of art. I have never longed to be part of a small scene for the rich, though I wouldn´t mind to get paid now and then...

Annu Vertanen (b. 1960), "The day of Absence, woodcuts, installation 450 x 1600 cm, 2006, Helsinki Art Hall

Printmaking in the Society

To be a printmaker you need a workshop. Since there are many printmakers in the world there are many workshops too. Commercial workshops, private workshops and workshops runned collectively by artists. Some are privately funded and some get support from their city or village. Artists involved in printmaking are used to organize projects and work together. Sharing is important. Collective exhibitions, "artist in residence" programs, international biennials and triennials. All play an important role in sharing art and knowledge. Since the prints are easy to send all over the world it is possible to do it. Unfortunately the authorities don´t understand this and funding is always a problem. But on the other hand artists are from the beginning trained by experience, to make much out of very little. And they sure do! So many exchange projects are taking place all the time. And even if there are physical boarders between countries and the Government might be democratic, communistic or other, communication, sharing and projects are realized. Printmaking is in itself an available form of art. It is a very democratic art form. If you don´t like the art-market you can simply give your prints away. And then go to the workshop and make new ones. This gives the printmaking community an image of "underground" and being more free to make up it´s own rules. It is independent in this way. And it is happening in places you could never imagine too. In the middle of nowhere you might discover somebody making prints, in the garage, in the kitchen or in a shed in the forest.
So even though many are worried about the future for printmaking, and for the loss of knowledge of the craft, I have great faith in that it always finds it´s new ways. Art happens where you least expect it to.

Swoon (b. 1977), "Celedonia Dance Curry", Swoon in Berlin, linocut on wall

In my life I have travelled quite a lot with my art and all the activity going on and the high level of the prints being made have constantly surprised me. I have shared what I know and I have been given way much more back.
Keep on printing!

Mikael Kihlman
Artist and printmaker
Stockholm, Sweden

Mikael Kihlman (1953. Uppsala, Sweden) printmaker and painter. Mikael Kihlman has had a large number of exhibitions in Sweden and abroad. For his black and white prints, in the technique drypoint, he has received many international awards, among them in Canada (Toronto and Montreal), Poland, China, Romania, Serbia, Spain and Japan. In Sweden Kihlman has received the Karlskoga Nobel Art Award 2001, the Swedish Printmakers Associatons Eric Wessel-Fougstedts Scholarship 2004 and together with the cultural journalist Karl Haskel, honorary scholarship from the Nils G. Stenqvists Memorial Fund 2009. In 2015 Kihlman received the title of Doctoris Honoris Causa at the Eugeniusz Geppert Academy of Art and Design in Wroclaw Poland. Kihlmans works is in the collections at The British Museum, London, National Museum, Modern Museum, Malmö Art Museum, Norrköping Art Museum, Borås Art Museum, Värmlands Museum, Karlstad, the Swedish Art Council, Municipal and private collections, Finnish State Art Deposit Collection and International Biennales and Triennales collections. Member of the Swedish Printmakers Association, Taidegraafikot, Finland and the Swedish Artist Union, KRO.



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