The Power of Unique Graphic Images

For centuries, printmaking was a means of duplicating drawings and paintings. However, by the end of the 19th century, artists were creating etchings, lithographs, engravings, and woodcuts that were unique expressions, not reproductions of drawings or paintings. Even prints created through a process that had the potential for making duplicates were individual enough to be numbered separately. As the artist June Wayne once explained to me, a print is a work of art with a lot of siblings.

Two friends of mine, Reba and Dave Williams, recently donated a portion of their vast collection of original prints to the National Gallery of Art (NGA) and turned over the administration of the Print Research Foundation to the NGA. They asked me to help sell the remaining exhibition catalogs published on selections from their collection, and those are now available at reduced prices through the Interweave Online Store. These well illustrated publications are valuable surveys of American screen prints, prints by Mexican muralists, forgotten etchers, and prints by African-American Artists.

Among the artists who developed printmaking techniques that were totally unrelated to drawing and painting was Stanley William Hayter (1901–1988), a British artist who invented what is generally referred to as viscosity printing. The process involves using a deeply bitten etching place that can be used to print a number of different colors by varying the amount of plate oil added to the etching ink and the density of the rollers used to apply the ink. The resulting prints aren’t copies of drawings or paintings. Rather, they are unique works of art with no direct correlation to images produced in other media.

The National Gallery of Art, in Washington, DC, is currently presenting an exhibition of 55 Hayter prints in a show titled “Stanley William Hayter: From Surrealism to Abstraction,” on view through August 30. The range of Hayter's artwork in the exhibition includes his early black-and-white surrealist engravings, outstanding examples of his technical innovations, unique proofs and color variations, late linear abstractions inspired by motion and mathematics, and fully worked copperplates and plaster casts, which he deemed artistic creations in their own right. The exhibition also includes a select group of prints by some of the best-known artists to work at his print workshop, Atelier 17, including Max Ernst, Joan Miró, and Jackson Pollock.

Contemporary printmakers are continuing to explore creative options despite the confusion in the field of printmaking caused by the introduction of giclée and other computer-generated processes. For example, Anthony Kirk has been working with a number of artists at his Center for Contemporary Printmaking in Norwalk, Connecticut, who appreciated the way Legion Paper’s new Revere printmaking papers lend individuality to intaglio, relief, and screen-printed images. For more information on these recent developments, read the article in the September issue of American Artist (you can download a free PDF of the article here).

In my opinion, original prints haven’t received the attention they deserve. I’d like very much to hear from those of you who are still involved in creating intaglio, relief, screen, or lithographic prints on your own or in collaboration with a master printer.

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M. Stephen Doherty

About M. Stephen Doherty

I've been interested in art since I was a child,  and I was fortunate to be able to take Saturday art classes at the Cincinnati Art Museum from the time I was 9 years old until I finished high school. I majored in art at Knox College and graduated summa *** laude, Phi Beta Kappa (proving artists can use both sides of their brain!).  I then earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in printmaking from Cornell University; taught art in public schools, a community college, an adult education program, and a college; worked in the marketing department of a company that manufactured screen printing supplies; and was hired to be editor of American Artist in January, 1979.

Thomas S. Buecher introduced me to plein air painting and it immediately became a passion of mine because it got me outdoors and allowed me to continue learning when I traveled to judge art shows, attend conventions, give lectures, and interview artists. Over the years I've exhibited my paintings at Bryant Galleries in New Orleans, Trees Place Gallery on Cape Cod, and in a traveling exhibition titled From Sea to Shining Sea.

I've written 10 books on artists and art techniques and contibuted articles to magazines, websites, and exhibition catalogs. Now as I prepare for semi-retirement, I'm trying to hone my painting skills -- especially those related to painting portraits.

I've been very fortunate to have met thousands of talented artists who have enriched my life with their art, their friendship, and their advice. I am grateful to Jerry Hobbs and Susan Meyer who hired me in 1979, to the talented people who worked with me on the magazines, and to the artists and advertisers who supported American Artist, Watercolor, Workshop, and Drawing  magazines and the related websites.

I've also been blessed with a supportive, talented wife, Sara; a daughter, Clare, who works for an insurance agency; a son, Michael, who is a computer enginner in Austin; a son-in-law, Shawn, who can fix and carry anything; a granddaughter, Amanda, who has me wrapped around her finger; and my mother, Dotty, who has advised and encouraged me from the beginning.

2 thoughts on “The Power of Unique Graphic Images

  1. Stephen, I wholeheartedly agree with your statement that original prints don’t receive the attention they deserve! Nor, I think, do the artists who work primarily in the various printmaking processes. In addition to master printers at well-known presses like Tamarind and Crown Point, working with artists whose usual medium is NOT printmaking, there is a tremendous and largely unknown crowd of individual artists whose primary output is in the form of etching, lithography, screen printing and other print media. Working on presses in their own studios or small community print centers, these artists are creating powerful and original work that is largely unseen by the art community in general.

    There are some excellent organizations — American Print Alliance, Southern Graphics Council, Mid America Print Council, to name just a few in this country– that sponsor exhibits, workshops and conferences where printmakers can connect with one another. A look at their websites shows that the printmaking community is exciting, full of innovation and creativity, and growing. It would be wonderful to see it receive some of the attention it merits, and it’s most commendable that American Artist has taken some steps in this direction. Thank you so much for opening up this discussion!

  2. I used to subscribe to AA however found that it didn’t meet my needs as a printmaker. I am glad to see you say, Stephen, “…that in my opinion, original prints haven’t received the attention they deserve.” Perhaps you can include more space to the art of printmaking. There is a wealth of diversity in the medium.

    Mary Ince
    Works on Paper