Tuesday, 25 April 2017


Since I founded Print Solo I realised that even people who are very interested in visual arts don’t have a clear idea about what printmaking is. The main element that they retain, I found out in conversations, is that it allows artists to make more than one copy of a piece. In an age in which technology can reproduce paintings and drawings with stunning fidelity then, ( did you see the Borgherini Chapel reproduced with 3D printing techniques for the Michelangelo and Sebastiano exhibition at the NG in London?) why not just go for digital reproductions, why do artists keep making original prints ?

The answer is of course that printmaking is not, or not just, about multiplication, but that the process involved in the various techniques is unique and has been fascinating visual artists for centuries.

In a recent talk in which I was introducing Print Solo I reflected on what some of these peculiar elements of original prints were, and the first one that occurred to me was the gap between the work of the artist and the birth of the print.
As you might know, in order to produce an original print the artist works on a matrix that is of a different material than the artwork itself: the print is on paper while the artist has been in fact carving a piece of wood, or cutting into plastic, or engraving a metal plate.
The artwork takes its final shape not under the hand of its creator but at a different time and place, when the tools have been put down and the object they created has been inked and is passing through a printing press.

These degrees of separation between the artist and the artwork have the effect of producing a surprise, a moment of real thrill when the paper is lifted from the matrix after having undergone the small journey on the printing press bed.
In the words of William Kentridge, a keen printmaker, at that precise moment the artist as a maker is left on one side of the press and the hands that peel the paper off the plate are the ones of the artist as observer. The surprise is further enhanced by the reversal of the image.
The metaphor that comes to my mind is that one of a person meeting an adult offspring they didn’t know they had, and looking hard to search for familiar features, for a resemblance to the other children.

Printmaking can introduce novelty and unexpected results, which in turn may feed works produced in a different medium. It can teach the artists something about their own practice, offer some insight. Also, the delight of seeing one’s own work with new, fresh eyes, of experiencing it as a viewer, is an almost addictive feeling one wants to relive again and again: when printing an edition or by periodically returning to the printmaking studio.

Evening in the Studio, mezzotint ( 20x15 cm)
Available on Print Solo

1 comment: