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Breda Škrjanec


Printmaking (R)evolution

Printmaking used to be a particular art form dedicated to a professional audience. The prints were issued in limited editions and were kept in folders and drawers away from light. That intimate nature of printmaking changed in the 20th century; the public role of printmaking grew increasingly. It become more accessible to artists and audiences thanks to cheaper technological processes (such as linocuts) and the growing number of publishers and printmaking studios that printed for public presentations and the market.
Great importance for the development of modern printmaking is attributed to Picasso's work in the years between the two world wars, and foremostly those conducted in cooperation with the Murlo Workshop during and after the Second World War. His etching Minotauromachia from 1935 is considered the most important art print of the 20th century.


Pablo Picasso, Minotauromachia, 1935, etching, aquatint


In Eastern European countries, printmaking played the role of communication media and propaganda during the Second World War and the fight against fascism, while after the war it became an important propaganda tool in building a new socialist society. As art in the socialist states was under the scrutiny of the state, printmaking was for many a field of free, personal, even lyrical expression. For reasons unknown, authorities did not comprehend its power.
In Europe, after 1950, printmaking became widespread. The first international exhibition Bianco e Nero (White and Black) was held in Lugano, Switzerland, in 1950, and continued to exist until the end of the 1960s. The International Society of Woodcut Printmakers XILON, founded in 1953, organized international exhibitions of woodcuts under the same name. The Ljubljana Printmaking Biennale was founded in 1955, and by the end of the 1960s it was followed by many in Europe and worldwide (Krakow, Tokyo, Fredrikstad, Varna, Cincinnati ...). These exhibitions marked the importance of printmaking in Europe and became a place for the exchange of ideas. They provided, in addition, an excellent training ground for artists, both those who made their prints under modest conditions and those who worked in studios with great printers and publishers. Most of the printmaking biennials ceased to exist during the eighties and nineties, while others were transformed and are still being organized - in Ljubljana, Tallinn, Krakow, Fredrikstadt... In the late fifties and sixties, the Venice and Sao Paulo biennials had printmaking departments and special awards.


I International Printmaking Exhibition, Modern Gallery Ljubljana, Slovenia, 1955.


In the 1960s and 1970s, an increasing number of printmaking studios, such as Gemini GEL, ULAE, and Tamarind in the USA, the screen-printing Kelpra Studio in Great Britain, the Maeght Gallery in Paris, René Block’s publisher Edition Block in Germany, etc. encouraged artists to explore the potentials of printing and printmaking. René Block, for example, was crucially important to the Fluxus movement in Europe. In the 1960s, printmaking gained political significance because artists additionally used it to avoid institutional and commercial constraints, and through it, they were able to establish contact with the viewer outside traditional socio-economic divisions. These experiments were short-lived but had a strong impact in the following decades. Since then, artists' books, posters, invitations, and other forms of ephemeral have become an autonomous space of expression.


     

Patrick Caulfield, Burning Coal, 1969, Kelpra Studio, London
Marcel Broodthaers, Manuscript in a bottle, Publishing house René Block, Berlin


Moreover, printmaking, especially screen-printing, has been appropriated by artists such as Warhol and Rauschenberg for unique works on canvas combined with paintings, collages, and art installations. Thus, the boundaries that once defined printmaking as a discipline of fine art that creates a two-dimensional imprint with a drawing engraved in a matrix, coated with printing ink and printed on paper, began to extinguish. From the standpoint of the rapid development, creation, and sale of art prints, the sixties and seventies are considered the golden age or renaissance of printmaking. In socialist countries, such as Tito's Yugoslavia, the authorities supported printmaking as an equally respectable artistic medium.


Adriana Maraž, Tripod, 1979, intaglio mixed media


In the 1980s, traditional printmaking art, with its rules such as limited editions, centuries-old techniques, printing matrices hold the image that makes up the print on paper, lost the right to act as the only and indisputable example of the printmaking art medium. Its authority was undermined by works of art which could be named semi-printmaking - monotypes, collages, photomontages, printmaking objects, printmaking with drawing or painting interventions, printed symbols, printmaking sculptures, printmaking installations, computer printmaking... A large number of conceptual works, as well as those playing with social themes and the fact that every printmaking work of art is a copy. These changes were first laid out properly and legitimized at the Thinking Print 1996 exhibition, hosted by Deborah Wye at the New York MOMA.



It was a reflection of the last 15 years development of contemporary printed art. Artists, ideas, and techniques created in the period 1980-1990 were presented, as well as works by already established artists. In addition to traditional woodcuts and linocuts, intaglio printing, and illustrated books, the exhibition featured new formats, such as posters, billboards, T-shirts, match packaging... Also, the exhibition explored important thematic issues that were then in the spotlight such as language, the body, photography, politics, and history. Of course, it focused on American art, but it also showed works by European artists that could not be overlooked due to their strength and excellence, such as the woodcuts of German neo-expressionists Anselm Kiefer and Georg Baselitz and other English artists such as Lucian Freud and Richard Hamilton, with outstanding series of intaglio prints of that period or Italian transavantgarde artists such as Mimo Paladino and Francesco Clemente.
The exhibition proved that the chosen 15 years were important and fruitful for printmaking and that the traditional boundaries of printmaking began to disintegrate, and political and social issues encouraged artists to look for formats in which they could communicate directly with the audience. It also announced the importance of computer technology for art, which is nowadays proving to have been right.
Sometime in the mid-1990s, a new generation of artists emerged. Instead of the term style, which refers to the formal characteristics of a work of art, the word strategy came into use, as it better describes the complexity of artistic thinking and planning. This generation is also characterized by the complete absence of a unique personal creative style. We are now talking about individual approaches, poetics, and a multitude of creative ways. Of course, all this is the result of a prone time to pluralism and decentralization and that does not accept hierarchy, but coexistence. The important question in art was no longer, what it looked like, but what it meant, and the latter already contains a social connotation. In Europe, the second half of the 1990s were marked by the rise of a generation of young British artists, the YBA, who were directly associated with the Paragon Press printmaking studio in London, which printed series of printmaking works in portfolios just for them (Mark Quinn, Tacitus Dean, Damien Hirst, to name just a few).


Marc Quinn, Garden Series, pigment print, 2000, Paragon Press, London


At the end of the millennium, printmaking was deeply rooted in the social context. The combination of art and technology led to the reproduction of art, which caused changes in the reception of art by the audience. Given this, I conclude that the history of contemporary printmaking is filled with stories of artists and intellectuals who create, mostly outside the mainstream, seeking new ways to spread the traditional, looking for new opportunities, content, and technological approaches. At the end of the 20th century, it became apparent that printmaking could no longer be defined merely as a print on paper. Conventional rules, structures, and expectations have ceased to be taken into account or have been altered, aesthetic boundaries have begun to dissolve, and all this allowed for change, fluidity and transgression. The digital world of production and communication has caused incredible changes in the way art is designed, produced, and disseminated. 25 years ago, we could have not imagined the complexity of the social media we use today. Computer programs such as Photoshop or Paint allow everyone to create versatile and flawless works, replacing the uppermost craft and practice of photomontage. As a curator in the printmaking world, I have always been interested in how artists respond to new possibilities and technologies. I am delighted with the idea and the richness of possibilities and ways of using old manual and new digital technologies, from which many printmaking works of exceptional quality and purity are created. Hugh Merrill says that today's darkroom is no longer a physical space with red lights, but a computer. Lasers, CNC machines, and 3D printers are precision tools that offer new possibilities in creating printmaking works and concepts, but they cannot replace the artist's hand. I think that the top achievement in contemporary printmaking is a flow of creativity that intertwines the most modern technologies with basic graphic processes and historical tradition.


 

Karol Pomykala, One Direction, linocut, digital print, 2018,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iy4ZijH36vo&t=226s


After all, I can say with certainty that in the last three decades, printmaking has moved from a basic process to an interdisciplinary field that encompass most of the postmodern artistic practice. The contemporary scene is as wide and varied for printmaking as one could imagine. Over the last 20 years, radical changes in the field of printmaking and art in general, have completely changed the approach to the media. Printmaking today is an art form made up of sculptures, performance, clothing, installation, commercial vision, cyberspace, artists ’books, multiples, newspapers, including art actions, Fluxus, new genre public art, events, performances and more.


Andrew Raftery, Autobiography of a garden on Twelve Engraved Plates, installation on the original wallpaper, the motif for which the artist found in the seeds of garden plants


Today, it is impossible to say that painting, sculpture, or printmaking are the latest and most advanced stage in the development of art. Contemporary art has moved to new interdisciplinary territories no longer based on art disciplines. The result is cross-fertilization, which represents an accurate reflection of today's contemporary art. Before concluding, I must say that in the thematic and conceptual sense, I have noticed in recent years some otherwise very loose trends that appear in contemporary printmaking art, as well as in art in general. Many works respond to new global political unrest expressed in military conflict and/or the rise of authoritarian regimes.


Svetlana Jakimovska Rodić, Curtains of history, installation in MGLC 2013, linocut on fabric, sand


There are artists who are similarly politically inspired, but from an individual perspective, they explore the ways in which power structures in society limit and shape identity, with special emphasis on gender and race. Another significant topic is the landscape, ecology, and the way in which people respond to the ecological challenges of the Anthropocene. The human body is also an increasingly common topic. Finally, numerous artists implement printmaking to develop introspective works exploring topics such as memory, perception, psychological states, and nostalgia.


Thomas Kilpper, Impressions. Five Centuries of Woodcuts, 2015, Nasionalsmuset, Bergen


Contemporary printmaking opens many frindge questions in the theoretical field, so it is understandable that the complexity and radical diversity of these issues provoke intense resistance in many circles and are therefore often understood as a provocation. When contemporary printmaking doubts the theory of its own existence, it requires us to think outside and, above all, on the other side of established and clearly defined theoretical structures.


Jeremias Altman, Woodcut with an ax, performance with graphics, 2012, https://vimeo.com/200097965


Mag. Breda Škrjanec, Ljubljana
Translation from Serbian: Maja Simić

Grafična (r)evolucija, B. Škrjanec




Breda Škrjanec (1960, Ljubljana, Slovenia), graduated from the Faculty of Arts, University of Ljubljana, with a degree in art history and sociology. She received her master’s degree in art history with a thesis The History of the Ljubljana Biennial of Graphic Arts. She is a museum councilor and curator at the International Centre of Graphic Arts (MGLC). She has been selector for several international Print shows such as: 24th, 26th and 27th Biennial of Graphic Arts Ljubljana (Slovenia), Bienal de Cerveira, including outdoor projects (Portugal), 7th International Tiennial of Prints Sofia (Bulgaria), etc. She has curated over 60 exhibitions. More

breda.skrjanec@guest.arnes.si



 

 

 
 
 
 
   
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