Moving Forward, Looking Back: Prints from the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection

de Young museum

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. 

David Hockney drawing on a lithograph, Daniel B Freeman, 1973, From the collection of: de Young museum

"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.

"Bull III" from the Bull Profile Series, Roy Lichtenstein, 1973, From the collection of: de Young museum

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.

Water Lilies (detail), Claude Monet, ca. 1914-1917, From the collection of: de Young museum
Environment as Inspiration
 "At Sea, Japan" by Jennifer Bartlett is the only print in the exhibition that was made without the artist’s expressed intent to riff on an earlier artist’s work. Nonetheless, its palette, scale, and subject matter recall Claude Monet’s water lily paintings. Both Monet and Bartlett found inspiration in watery biomes. The environment has been and continues to be a perpetual source of artistic inspiration. Art, in one way or another, is an attempt to capture how the world looks and the way a person feels to exist within it.
At Sea, Japan, Jennifer Bartlett, 1980, From the collection of: de Young museum
Like Monet’s canvases, Bartlett’s print is enormous—nearly two feet high and over eight feet long. The sheer size of the works create immersive viewing experiences enhanced by the artists’ abilities to expand the spaces within the picture frame. Both Monet and Bartlett depict the shimmering surface of water and, in so doing, capture the reflections of the space above and glimpses of the depths below. In addition to developing a new medium and process, Bartlett adds an abstract narrative to her waterscape leading the viewer on a journey from left to right. Is it a progression from sun-dappled shallows to the abyss of the deep? Or is it a representation of the passage of time from dawn to dusk?
Roy Lichtenstein with “Brushstrokes”, Thomas Hoepker, 1986, From the collection of: de Young museum
Translating Painting
Often referred to as the father of Pop Art, Lichtenstein harnessed the energy and aesthetic of consumer culture to create his own modern style. However this print is not comprised of the Benday dots borrowed from the world of graphic advertising and comic books that have come to define his work. Here, Lichtenstein looks back at the art of the Expressionists and riffs on their use of emotion-filled brushstrokes. "View from the Window" refers to Henri Matisse’s paintings of the 1920s from his studio window in Nice as well as a 1928 Max Backmann painting of the Dutch resort town Scheveningen. 
View from the Window, Roy Lichtenstein, 1985, From the collection of: de Young museum

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.

Bellini #1(detail), Robert Rauschenberg, 1989, From the collection of: de Young museum
The Power of Collage
Collage describes both the technique and resulting work of art in which materials are arranged and affixed to a surface. The medium is powerful because it offers artists the thrillingly literal possibility of bringing other artists’ work into their own. Collage, one might say, is the artistic quote par excellence. 
Bellini #3 (detail), Robert Rauschenberg, 1988, From the collection of: de Young museum
Robert Rauschenberg is famous for combining all sorts of materials into textural assemblages and collages on canvases, in print, and in sculpture. This print, part of a five-print series titled, "Bellini," is the result of Rauschenberg’s time spent developing a technique through which photography could be incorporated into his printed work. Each print within the "Bellini" series incorporates reproductions of small paintings from the Accademia, Venice by the artist Giovanni Bellini (active 1459—1516). Believing them to be “the worst thing” Bellini had ever made, Rauschenberg later disclosed that by incorporating reproductions of them into his own work he hoped to “help a fellow artist out by making them better.” In composing each print, Rauschenberg enlarged the Bellini images and placed them in a montage of his own colorful photographs. Rauschenberg transformed Bellini’s art into something resolutely modern.  
Installation view of "Moving Forward, Looking Back", de Young Museum, 2019-07-31, From the collection of: de Young museum
The Exhibition
"Moving Forward, Looking Back: Prints from the Anderson Graphic Arts Collection" is on view at the de Young Museum from July 27, 2019 until January 12, 2020. The exhibition is made up of artworks donated to the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco by the Anderson family. Mary Margaret “Moo” and Harry “Hunk” Anderson purchased their first print in 1969. Since then, together with their daughter, Mary Patricia “Putter” Anderson Pence, they have cultivated an exceptional survey of American printmaking. The prints included in this exhibition represent the Andersons’ generous effort to make art accessible to all.
Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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