On Screenprint

by Susan Tallman

July 2014

We have never organized an issue around technique and, truth be told, I have been known to complain about the habitual emphasis on method in discussions of prints. Painting usually gets treated in terms of content, and few histories of sculpture are organized by “bronze casting,” “marble carving,” and “clay molding.” The business of putting technique first seems to beggar the role of meaning, to downgrade the ideas that have always been the real business of printed images.

The current issue’s focus on screenprint arose by chance. The publication of Guido Lengwiler’s book on the history of the medium (reviewed here by Stephen H. Goddard) was followed by a spate of promising new editions, some chance studio and gallery encounters, and scattered conversations in which the medium kept cropping up, though it seemed to mean completely different things to different people. In talking about screenprint with a curator, the subject quickly turned to the great Warhols, Lichtensteins and Hamiltons whose photomechanical appropriation and bright, hard edges defined the look of Pop Art. For undergraduates in the art school where I teach, screenprint means band posters, t-shirts, and artisanal record production. Artists with whom we spoke waxed fond about screenprint’s intensity of color, its speed and the refreshing unpretentiousness of process and product. Printers spoke excitedly about installation pieces, sculptures and paintings they had helped create. Designers talked about the delight of being able to make things entirely in-house.

These different territories are often Balkanized: Galleries are forthright about describing paintings as screenprinted, but often fail to see the connection between “screenprinted” and “screenprints,” something Warhol himself explained pragmatically: “you could call the paintings prints, but the material used for the paintings was canvas.”) Meanwhile, Warhol’s name does not appear at all among the 11,418 artists listed on gigposters.com. Like bubbles in a Venn diagram, the worlds of graphic design, popular culture, serious art, performance events, community service and industrial production exist as largely independent spheres, but they meet up in screenprint—the Trieste of image production.

The articles and reviews in this issue describe a diverse set objects and ambitions. The sleek, intelligent posters designed by Phillippe Apeloig (profiled by Caitlin Condell) are entirely different in flavor from the spontaneous call and response with which Arturo Hererra screens patterns across the pages of books found in Berlin flea markets (essay by Christina Nippe). And neither set of intentions echo those of Ray Yoshida, whose lost screenprints are recovered by Mark Pascale in this iteration of “Treasures from the Vault.” Michael Ferut and I survey print activities from live performance to religious rehabilitation, while Jason Urban looks at the online strategies adopted by artists and designers to dramatize the physical presence and manual labor wrapped up in handmade prints.

Eleree Erdos reviews recent projects by Jane Kent, Hank Willis Thomas, and Ryan McGinness, each of which exploits a different inherent property of screenprint, and as chance would have it, this issue’s Prix de Print juror, artist Peter Power, selected the screenprints of Ann Aspinwall. The “Decagon Collection,” reviewed by Ferut, includes a screenprinted DIY sculpture by Daniel Barrow, as well as a photogravure by David Hartt and a monoprint by William Cordova.

As always, the world is too rich to be confined by any single theme, even one as capacious screenprint. The monographs on Barry Cleavin and Peter Bräuninger both focus on etching, and the Richard Forster’s edition takes the form of photogravures. Two exhibitions in Paris illuminate the critical role played by printers in collaborative creation: the survey of Djamel Tatah’s lithographs (reviewed by Kate McCrickard) took place in the space where they were made, Atelier Michael Woolworth in Paris; and “From Picasso to Jasper Johns, the Atelier of Aldo Crommelynck,” reviewed by Laurie Hurwitz, surveyed the career of one of the 20th century’s greatest etchers. Jaclyn Jacunski reviews the work of John Sparanga, and the exhibition “Social Paper,” built around the idea of papermaking as a both a vehicle for art and a community-enhancing endeavor.

This issue does not pretend to be a thorough or balanced summary of all that screenprint is and can be. Our goal rather is to call attention to the perceived but often unexamined borders between art and design, hand facture and commercial production, and social and aesthetic value. Most things exist clearly on side of these divides or another; but some hover insistently, refusing our best taxonomical efforts.

The late Al Taylor, whose print catalogue raisonné is reviewed here by Faye Hirsch, described the allure of printmaking in terms of “elaborate programs, systems, and methods which break down, fall apart, and change the more successful they become, taking on meanings and a life beyond” the artist’s intentions. That life beyond is worth chasing, whatever technique is used.