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The Printmaking Guide - Modern Printmaking


The 20th century saw printing arrive a little more in the pop culture art scene. It was affordable and produced bold and reliable results. However, it was never an artists focus, with it still taking a back seat to painting and sculpture. However, in the UK the Keplra Studio was opened in 1957 by Chris Prater and his wife, Rose. Initially started as a screen-printing studio, Prater gained an international reputation.

As artists started to rely on printmaking as an integral part of their portfolio, new technologies and methods improved the methods surrounding printmaking. Traditional techniques were supplanted, modified and sometimes even facilitate by the photocopier, the fax, and the inkjet printer. At the same time, some artists have continued to explore the untapped potential of more traditional methods, whether it be by printing on surfaces other than paper, by working on an unprecedented scale or simply by working in a way which expands the definitions of 'print'. Although many feared the arrivals on new techniques would cause a hindrance to printing, the traditional methods are used in conjunction with the digital and technical processes.

Paul Coldwell now heads a leading research programme at the University of the Arts, London, on the integration of computer technology into fine-art practice. His own works are frequently a combination of both digital and more traditional processes. The journey from original source material, repeatedly modified and re-formed, to final print, might be read as a metaphor for his imagery, which frequently reflects on the plight of refugees and migrants who are also constantly moving on and adapting to new circumstances.

Printmaking is often a collaborative activity and workshops and studios have played a crucial role in the development of artists' ideas around print. The community-based London Printworks Trust is just one of the organisations that has generated a range of imaginative print projects, collaborations, interventions and co-operative ventures. It uses it's status very much as a social engagement tool, with education at the core of its values.

The environment in which prints are used has changed over the years, which has influenced its development. Now, no longer do we see prints as just part of an exhibition in the gallery system and art market, but they are commonplace at events, with artists often using their prints transferred onto tote bags, badges or stickers. On the other hand, commissioned large prints are now commonplace as part of transport systems, include the Platform for Art scheme on the London Underground has changed the way we view prints and the circumstances that it happens in.

Printmaking in the modern era is actually a very exciting concept. They are sold from market stalls, over the internet or from vending machines but also, check carefully on your takeaway coffee, for it may be a public piece of print artwork.

Printmaking has been exploited by artists as a means of getting their art into the public domain, in an affordable and accessible way. The combination of marketing with the art world, another modern development, has meant for carrier bags as artworks in their own right, has become extremely popular for an exhibition. Andy Warhol started this with his paper carriers printed with his iconic soup-can image.

Another way marketing has influenced the world of printmaking is through huge campaigns such as the Beck's beer label campaigns. The beer brewing company Beck's has been sponsoring contemporary art events since 1985 when they supported the German Art in the 20th Century exhibition at the Royal Academy. Since then Beck's has commemorated its major sponsorships and exhibition openings by inviting artists to create limited edition labels for the bottles of beer which are offered to guests at the private views. By doing this they aim to identify their brand image with the perceived attributes of contemporary art: cool, original, young, irreverent, controversial and talked-about. Each design offers us a snapshot of the artist's work within the limitations of a small label. Some are instantly recognisable, such as Damien Hirst's coloured dots, familiar from his spot paintings (one of two labels he designed in 1995), but others are a little less obvious. Tim Head's label shows several plastic coffee stirrers; his design connects with his interest in patterns and motifs derived from everyday throw-away materials. Rebecca Horn is best-known as the maker of wearable artworks, and kinetic sculptures which produce sounds or generate 'paintings' by mechanical gestures of pouring or spilling.

In every case, these artist-designed labels represent a fascinating synthesis of art and design, with popular culture, marketing, and consumption, as well as embodying the youth-orientated character of Beck's sponsorship campaigns.

All these innovations prompt the question: what is a print? The term now encompasses everything from the stenciled guerrilla graphics of graffiti artists such as Banksy, to museum-sponsored billboards, appropriated or found material which is then modified, a cake iced with a laser-jet printed image, printed MDF floors, wallpapers and soft furnishings designed for installations. In recent years printmaking has co-opted painting and sculpture, dress and domestic furnishings, commerce, and cyberspace. Dynamic and democratic, the world of printmaking now includes the billboard and the badge, the masterpiece and the multiple, the priceless and the giveaway. Prints are a vital and vibrant link between the museum and the marketplace, the elite, and the everyday.