Hand-made versus high tech: experts debate the future of printmaking; a recent panel discussion presented various opinions on fine art prints in the new millennium – news

Hand-made versus high tech: experts debate the future of printmaking; a recent panel discussion presented various opinions on fine art prints in the new millennium – news – Brief Article

Laura Meyers

LOS ANGELES–“It’s extraordinary to me that we’ve just entered the sixth century of printmaking in the West,” marveled Kevin Salatino, curator of the Prints and Drawings department at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “Here we are in the 21st century and, to quote Robert Rauschenberg, `artists are still drawing on rocks.'”

Salatino spoke before a crowd of several hundred fine art print aficionados at a panel discussion on “Printmaking and Its Future” held at the museum in conjunction with the Los Angeles Fine Print Fair in January. He was joined by longtime print dealer Marilyn Pink; artist and UCLA professor Roger Herman; Joni Moisant Weyl, representing print publisher Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited); and Toby Michel, printmaker/publisher/owner of Angeles Press, a fine print atelier established in 1980.

Their discussion was lively and, at times, rancorous. But in the rarified atmosphere of this museum, the concern was less about the archival versus ephemeral quality of digital printing and more about the core value of high touch versus high tech: Is printmaking losing its human touch in the digital age?

Michel, who trained as a printmaker at the original Tamarind Institute, is an admitted Luddite when it comes to digital prints. For Michel, printmaking is about making art by hand. “As a printer, I’ve had to learn how to shelter and nurture an artist through the travails of learning to work on stone.” Printmaking should be passionate, he said.

“But now, digital printmaking is removing the passion.” Michel also scoffs at the increasing edition sizes becoming commonplace in the art market. “Of course I recognize that print shops are economic enterprises, not charitable organizations. Prints are made to be sold. I just happen to think an edition of 100 is pretty darn intimate.”

While Michel decried the new technologies, art professor Herman welcomed them, remarking, “It’s just another technique.” Art students today, he said, “draw on a computer then print their work to an etching plate.” The bigger issue, he said, is that art schools themselves are giving up on printmaking programs.

Although she sells traditional modern and contemporary fine prints, art dealer Pink asserted that “digital printing has been maligned. With each new art-making process over the years, there has been tremendous resistance.”

And yet, Pink worried, with artists e-mailing their images to each other, “looking at each other’s work, everything is starting to look the same. Solo creativity is missing. [Some artists] are turning out things which are colorful, but shallow. They have no soul. I think, whatever the technology, we still have to teach the public what makes Rauschenberg Rauschenberg.”

Moderator Salatino responded, “I’d like to think that, ultimately, the artist will triumph over the process.”

Gemini G.E.L.’s Weyl is a neutral observer, noting that “my opinion is evolving.” Thus far, Gemini, the famed publisher of more than 1,700 editions by some of the best-known contemporary artists of the past three decades, including Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, has not published any digital print editions even though this innovative atelier pioneered other complicated techniques such as combining lithography with X-rays and other photographic processes and adding transfer rubbings from printed images. Gemini helped transform printmaking into a multimedia activity.

“We’re impatient for this new medium, digital printing, to develop,” noted Weyl. “I am starting to see, once in a great while, a collaboration between an artist, a computer and a printer that just blows me away. But so far, Gemini is not dipping its toe in that water at all.”

Still, Gemini strives to remain inventive and imaginative, Weyl added. “We have to do something to keep the printmaker engaged–it is boring to stand over the press doing the same thing over and over. In workshops like ours, we bend over backwards to encourage the artist to not simply reproduce a drawing. The most exciting lithographs happen when an artist looks at the traditional print medium and asks, `How far can I tweak it and still make it a print?’ For Rauschenberg [when he worked at Gemini] what was interesting to him was exploring the medium.”

So, what is the future of printmaking? No one can be sure. But a young art student in the audience pointed out, “Your generation grew up with typewriters. My generation grew up printing out of a computer. Instead of being scared of digital, you should embrace it.”

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