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Mokuhanga International

Fig. 7. Karen Kunc, Bay (2011), woodcut, mokuhanga woodblock, watercolor, wax, 19 x 38 inches. Edition of 4. Printed by the artist, published by the artist.

Fig. 10. Mike Lyon, Sarah Reclining (2006), woodblock print from 17 cherry plywood blocks, dry pigment and neri-zumi, 42 x 77 inches. Edition of 8. Printed and published by the artist.

The richly colored, visually dynamic woodblock technique perfected in Japan during the 18th and 19th centuries is known internationally by the Japanese term mokuhanga. The character for moku literally means wood, while hanga can be broken down into two concepts (each represented by a separate character), the first character being han, meaning print, edition or impression, and the second ga, meaning picture. The expression does not describe the act of printing so much as it refers to the resulting object, the print. …Read More

Springing into the Void: Jacob Samuel and the Peripatetic Printshop

Fig. 1. Jacob Samuel’s portable aquatint box.

At the center of the Museum of Modern Art’s “Print/Out” exhibition, in the midst of the bright screenprints and the rough woodcuts, the loud wallpaper and the quiet wallbound etchings, sits a curious construction on a low plinth: two wooden folding chairs face each other as if in conversation, suspending between them an apparatus composed of two black accordion bellows, one sticking up and one dropping down, some pretty brass hinges, and a nifty sliding wooden drawer (Fig. 1). It looks like a Surrealist sculpture—an onanistic camera, perhaps. In fact, it is the “portable aquatint box” of the printer and publisher Jacob Samuel, the nucleus of a mobile printshop that he has lugged to artists’ studios around the world. …Read More

Visual Culture of the Nacirema: Chagoya’s Printed Codices

Fig. 1a. Enrique Chagoya, left panels of Tales from the Conquest/Codex (1992), color xerox transfer, lacquer, acrylic, and ink on amate paper, 31.75 cm x 300.36 cm x 10.16 cm. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Accessions Committee Fund: gift of Susan and Robert Green, Christine and Pierre Lamond, Madeleine H. Russell, and Judy C. Webb. ©Enrique Chagoya.

Fig. 1b. Enrique Chagoya, detail of Tales from the Conquest/Codex (1992). ©Enrique Chagoya.

Enrique Chagoya describes himself as both a painter and a printmaker, and indeed, an understanding of his prints is essential to any meaningful discussion of his work. His interest in the graphic arts began when he first saw Goya’s etchings as a teenager; he illustrated books and drew political cartoons while studying political economics at the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in the 70s; and he made his first suite of prints as an art student at the San Francisco Art Institute (SFAI) and the University of California, Berkeley in the 80s (Homage to Goya II: Disasters of War (2003)). …Read More

Artful Coercion: The Aesthetic Extremes of Stencil in Wartime

Fig. 1. Vladimir Lebedev, detail of A Belorussian Landscape (TASS 1017) (July 31, 1944), stencil. The Art Institute of Chicago, gift of the USSR Society for Cultural Relations with Foreign Countries, 2010.122.

In the late 1990s, when the Department of Prints and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago was packing up to prepare for renovations, a batch of brown-paper wrapped parcels was discovered tucked into a small, hidden space above the regular storage bins. They contained posters, most of them never accessioned by the museum, presumably because at the time they were received they didn’t quite seem to be proper “prints.” …Read More

Street Art: Prints and Precedents

Fig. 6. Ben Eine, Scary (2008), screenprint, 30 x 80 cm. The Victoria and Albert Museum, no. E.319-2010, ©Eine.

Graffiti, street art, and their printed progeny, now ubiquitous, may appear to have sprung fully formed from the spray cans and stencils wielded by a new breed of artist, operating outside the system and eschewing the traditions. But like any other art form, street art has a rich vocabulary of sources and precedents. …Read More

Drawing and its Double: The Engraved Plate

Fig. 1. Giorgio Ghisi, Il Giudizio universale (Ghisi Composite) after Michelangelo (1549), 10 matrices and an additional portrait of Michelangelo, burin on copper, entire composition 122 x 107 cm. Rome, Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica, Inv. 201/1-11.

Among the very first items accessioned by the Museum of Art Rhode Island School of Design (founded in 1877 along with the school where I teach) was a set of etchings by Salvator Rosa. Although the artist made the plates in the 17th century, the impressions are from the 1870s, printed in reddish-brown ink on 19th century paper. …Read More

Christiane Baumgartner Between States

Few artists who adopt printmaking as their primary means of expression achieve international critical acclaim. Museums and collectors often prefer prints by artists who have established reputations in painting, sculpture or installation work, their printmaking fitting into an overall hierarchy that values the unique over the multiple. Christiane Baumgartner is an exception, an artist of international stature who has chosen printmaking as her principle activity. …Read More

Messing About with Masterpieces: New Work by Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778)

‘I have need of great ideas, and I believe that if I were commanded to design a new universe, I should have the folly to undertake such a thing.’ —Giambattista Piranesi

The 18th century printmaker Giambattista Piranesi is best known for his views of Rome (Vedute di Roma), those beautifully observed, deeply Romantic evocations of decrepit grandeur, and for his loose and labyrinthine invented prisons, the Carceri. Both have been hallmarks of refined, if slightly dusty, interiors for two centuries, but a recent exhibition at Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice argued for a new view of the artist as a multi-tasking globalist in tune with 21st century technological adventurism. …Read More

Embracing the Whole Story: a Conversation with Deborah Wye

Deborah Wye recently retired as The Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at The Museum of Modern Art. Over the course of her 31 years at MoMA, she organized and co-organized many major exhibitions, including Thinking Print: Books to Billboards, 1980–95 ; Eye on Europe: Prints, Books & Multiples, 1960 to Now (2006); and Committed to Print: Social and Political Themes in Recent American Printed Art (1988), and published extensively on subjects ranging from Russian avant-garde books to Louise Bourgeois. She was also responsible for a significant expansion of the department’s holdings, particularly in areas of less traditional print production, though for her last exhibition she returned to MoMA’s roots with a close look at the creative process of MoMA’s most axiomatic artist in Picasso: Themes and Variations. Currently she is working at the museum as Chief Curator Emerita, completing the catalogue raisonné of the prints of Louise Bourgeois (MoMA has an archive devoted to the artist’s printed work.) …Read More

Printed Bodies and the Materiality of Early Modern Prints

Figs 1, 2, 3. Lucas Kilian, Catoptri Microcosmici (Visio Prima, Visio Secunda, Visio Tertia) (1613), three anatomy broadsides composed of engraving and etching on ivory laid paper, discolored to cream, cut and joined with paper components, laid down on letterpress printed ivory laid paper, and mounted on cream wove paper. The Art Institute of Chicago, Gift of Dr. Ira Frank, 1944.461, 1944.462 and 1944.521.

In 1613, the Augsburg engraver Lucas Kilian produced a set of three broadsheets of human anatomy that are some of the most intricate early examples of interactive prints extant. Composed of several layers of engraving, letterpress and etching that were cut, stacked, and glued together as liftable flaps, these prints allowed the viewer to dissect male and female corpses as a didactic exercise. …Read More