Historically, artists have copied great art of the past as part of their formal training. For centuries, artists were taught to copy earlier experts before ever gaining the freedom to invent a composition of their own. Even then, many artists sought out the examples of others not only to develop skill and technique but to identify artistic boundaries that they might endeavour to expand in the name of innovation and originality. Over the last fifty years artists have pushed printmaking into unchartered territory by developing new materials, techniques, and syntax, yet the practice of looking back for inspiration remains routine.
"Moving Forward, Looking Back: Prints from the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection" highlights practices of quotation and stylistic reinvigoration by some of the most daring and prominent artists held in the Museums’ Anderson Graphic Arts Collection. The exhibition presents works by artists such as Jennifer Bartlett, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg, and shows how these artists adapted the creative spirits of their predecessors to inform and advance their individual practices and the art of printmaking.
Many of the prints featured in this exhibition are rooted in the Pop Art movement, which was simultaneously a critique and a celebration of a booming 1960s consumer age. Pop artists engaged with the modern world around them. Utilizing a slick finish that could minimize overt evidence of the artist’s hand, they incorporated the language of advertising and proclaimed that anything, even an image of a Campbell’s soup can, could be art. Even while “breaking” the academic rules, these artists continued to find value in the work of artists who came before them, making art about art and the process of its creation.
Inseparable from the heyday of Pop Art in the United States is the so-called “renaissance” in American printmaking. The timing was no coincidence since printmaking embodies the spirit of innovation and egalitarian idealism at the heart of the counterculture. From one metal plate, lithographic stone, or screen it is possible to create multiple impressions of one artwork making prints one of the most affordable and accessible forms of fine art.
Multiple print publishing workshops popped up across the U.S. in the 1960s and their directors invited artists—often with little to no experience with relief, intaglio, and lithographic processes—to make prints with the assistance of printers specially trained in the chemical intricacies required for successful printing. Making artistic use of some of the print processes by which magazines and newspapers reached hundreds of thousands of readers, Pop artists, in particular, found both the materiality and subject of everyday print culture especially compelling.
The following is an exploration of five artists working in the 1970s and 1980s who looked to the past in order to make art that pushed printmaking into the future.
In order to incorporate a version of a gestorial sweep of paint into his machine aesthetic, Lichtenstein created two systemized styles of printed “brushstrokes”. The first was a cartoon-style brushstroke; a solid color outlined in black created using woodcuts. The second was a brushstroke undefined by line and thus more similar to the brushstrokes seen in action painting. The uncartoonlike brushstroke was created by dipping a rag in paint and pulling the rag across a canvas to get the desired shape. This process was then repeated using liquid on Mylar which was then photographed and transferred onto both lithographic plates and screenprinting screens. In "View from the Window" Lichtenstein forms objects and scenery exclusively out of his printed brushstrokes. The work is a fresh take on a familiar tradition.