I’m reflecting on the first full day of my printmaking residency at The Minories gallery in Colchester. I’ve been making monotypes – which is really a printmaker who is making paintings by stealth. I’m really enjoying the monotype process. One of the many good things about it is that its as much hassle as painting. You feel the same total immersion in simple materials, and the same commitment to uncertain outcomes. Control freaks need not apply for this process.
But, to be honest I am conflicted about printmaking.
Love the process – of mixing ink, rolling it out, the smell and the subtle variations in tack and opacity, the paper and how it floods with large flat areas of intense black or colour. I began with engraving, and loved it’s kinship with drawing. But it was always a means rather than an end in itself.
Love the materials – especially paper, the most accessible and democratic support you can use. The inks, plate oils, scrapers, and drawing and painting on glass. Printmaking has its roots in the world of jobbing makers, who spend a working life getting by on their skills. It’s a trade. What matters is doing a good day’s work, without this baffling obsession with becoming an ‘established’ ‘artist. It’s basically how I see myself.
Printmakers, particularly the ones that aspire to be ‘established’ often lose sight of their vernacular roots. They seek safety in institutions. Art clubs and societies, groups and academies – they all attract joiners. They draw in people who work well inside an institution. Joiners are not always the same people that make the good work. The printmakers I admire were emphatically not joiners. Printmakers protocol, editions and ‘proper’ technique is certainly not what gets me up and at it every morning. The people I admire were all very skilled but they used all and any technical means available to get the work done. It was the work that led the process and never the other way round.
William Blake was an engraver and as such was not allowed into the Royal Academy because engraving was considered a commercial, reproductive art.
Francisco Goya was the first painter to use lithography, which was an entirely reproductive and commercial process when he started into it.
James Gilray, one of the finest etchers ever is still admired for his beautiful taut graphic line. He sold very rude political cartoons directly from his printshop and probably never went near a gallery or an art club.
Andy Warhol used screenprinting because it was an unacceptably commercial and reproductive form of printmaking.
Michael Rothenstein said ‘there are no rules’ yet I can never walk past one of his prints when I see it. It has energy and sincerity and it always draws me in.
Just think what Blake, Goya, Gilray, Warhol and Rothenstein would have done with laser copiers or 3D printing. Better yet just think what you could do with them and stop worrying about what other printmakers might think.
I hope you can drop in at the Minories – you can click through here to the FBook event page