On view at the International Print Center New York earlier this fall was an exhibition of prints defined not by a shared theme or by formal congruities, but by a common relationship to the renowned master printer Craig Zammiello. Zammiello, who specializes in intaglio processes, brought technical ingenuity and creativity to each of the projects on view. Through its focus on the prints developed between one printer and ten artists at Universal Limited Art Editions and Two Palms Press, the exhibition pays homage to the collaborative process that is part and parcel of printmaking today.
The exhibition derives from the catalogue Conversations from the Print Studio: A Master Printer in Collaboration with Ten Artists, co-authored by Zammiello and Elisabeth Hodermarsky, Sutphin Family Senior Associate Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Yale University Art Gallery. The book comprises conversations between the co-authors and the artists whose work is featured in the exhibition: Mel Bochner, Carroll Dunham, Ellen Gallagher, Jane Hammond, Suzanne McClelland, Chris Ofili, Elizabeth Peyton, Matthew Ritchie, Kiki Smith and Terry Winters. The lively dialogues between printer, curator and artist offer layered narratives of the production of each print or suite from the artist’s initial concept to the final work. The catalogue also functions as an intaglio handbook of sorts as it offers legible, detailed accounts of the processes involved in the creation of each print, including innovations in technique developed by Zammiello to complete many of the projects being examined.
At IPCNY the work was sparsely installed, with each print or suite of prints provided with ample wall space, lending each a magisterial air. While such pristine treatment belies the immense amount of labor involved in each print’s production, as tours de force of printmaking these works merit this stately display.
An example is Kiki Smith’s My Blue Lake (1995), a large etching with photogravure, à la poupée and lithography printed and published by ULAE. In it, Smith’s face and upper torso are splayed horizontally across the surface, creating an uncanny image that is at once figurative and abstract, portrait and landscape. As Zammiello and Hodermarsky indicate in the catalogue, the print could be easily executed today through means of new technologies such as digital printing. But in 1995 the project required a periphery camera, so Smith and Zammiello traveled to the British Museum, which owned one of the two in existence. Smith sat on a Lazy Susan-style turntable as the camera recorded several 360-degree images. A large photogravure was then made from the photograph Smith selected. To emphasize the pores and augment the illusion of depth, Smith drew with an enamel pen on clear Mylar film placed over one of the proofs, and the drawing was made into a litho plate printed over the etching. The painterly red and blue strokes, which lend the portrait the appearance of a landscape, were done à la poupée.
In the catalogue, Smith describes her practice of “unfolding” faces in her portraits, which she conceives of as an “alternative to Cubism, to see things from all sides but simultaneously.” The image in My Blue Lake also grew out of Smith’s interest in flattened Etruscan funerary masks and depictions of the Egyptian goddess Nuit as Hathor, who is often represented with a wide face and protruding ears. The miles and time logged is indicative of Zamiello’s apparent unwavering dedication to artists—a quality that surfaces continuously in the catalogue’s conversations.
Many artists also remark on their trust of Zammiello and the comfort he provides in the often unfamiliar, even intimidating environment of the print shop. Smith comments that she wasn’t keen to pose nude for other photogravure projects—she says, “if you look at the people who take their clothes off in art they don’t look like me”—but Zammiello coaxed her, reminding her that nudity need not necessarily be risqué. The results are Worm (1992) and Free Fall (1994), exquisite self-portraits also published by ULAE, not included in the exhibition. Similarly, Jane Hammond observed that the mutual respect and trust that characterizes her relationship with Zammiello allowed her to “overcome her initial trepidation” about modeling nude for her life-size digital print entitled Tabula Rosa (2001).
The issue of trust as integral to a productive artist-printer relationship comes to the fore in Terry Winters’ discussion of the printmaking process. Winters comments that his attempt to achieve a “quality of directness”—a hallmark of his practice—is reflected in Zammiello’s approach to collaborating with artists. Winters remarks that Zammiello uses his deep knowledge of and enthusiasm for techniques “as a very direct input into how [an] image gets built rather than…[on] busy work,” demonstrating a readiness to adapt to each artist’s unique practice.
Winters’ Internal and External Values (1998), published by ULAE, is a stunning example of a truly collaborative work. Undoubtedly an image that fits squarely into Winters’ oeuvre, its remarkable tonal range was achieved by layer upon layer of sugarlift aquatint and openbite etching, with the help of an airbrush, and demonstrates Zammiello’s mastery of intaglio techniques. What’s more, the work was printed from a single plate in a single color—Prussian blue—and in a single pass through the press.
Ellen Gallagher’s Bouffant Pride (2003) and Duke (2004), the “litmus test[s],” according to Zammiello, for her groundbreaking sixty-print portfolio DeLuxe (2004-5), evince traces of collaboration on a grand scale. Indeed, DeLuxe involved a team of seven printers at Two Palms with the assistance of several interns. Together, Bouffant Pride and Duke incorporate photogravure, laserincised peeled paper, collage, hair pomade, plasticine and toy “googly” eyes.
The results of exceptionally complex processes—Zammiello and Gallagher’s fascinating account reads like a dialogue in a play—are bizarre and playful responses to advertisements from mid-century magazines made for African-American audiences. Repetition defines the gridded compositions of the two prints, as well as Gallagher’s manipulation of the images, which she incises, draws on, cuts from, pastes over, and redraws again and again. And though this transformation of form and meaning is profoundly personal, Gallagher was obliged to explain her decisions to a host of printers so that each action could be recorded and employed in subsequent editions. By calling attention to actions that remain unvoiced when working alone, Gallagher recognized the development of a “language … you become aware of your own choices, having that kind of elongated process enter the work.” Because each print involves a “conversation,” she explains, the collaboration that distinguishes printmaking from painting and drawing renders these prints especially layered with meaning.
These print studio conversations explore the varied roles that Zammiello has adopted over many years of collaborating with a diverse roster of artists. In honing in on a single, albeit particularly influential, printer, the project demonstrates that a printer can bring far more than technical know-how to the table. Motivator, nurturer, friend—these descriptions apply equally to a vast number of printers working in collaborative print shops today. The exhibition should be praised for shedding light on the critical artist-printer relationship. Hopefully there will be many more like it to come.