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Some Thoughts on History and chine colle

When trying to decide what to discuss in my first blog entry, I decided to talk about the first print ever published by Anniversary Year Press a print titled After the Race, by the author, of which there are two versions.  The horse used to inspire the print doesn't have his name in the title however, it is none other than Anniversary Year himself.  Before discussing After the Race, I'd like to visit a little history regarding what we now know as fine art printmaking.The processes which are used to make fine art prints were once-upon-a-time state-of -the-art commercial print processes.  As time went on, each process was deemed obsolete commercially and was replaced by another.  Artists keep these processes alive because we have not found another way to create the unique marks available to us in these age old processes.  

The oldest dated printed book , a Buddhist text, was printed in China in AD 868.  It was printed from blocks of carved wood.  Printing began in a similar manner in the West in which printing was done from wood blocks.  When the oldest western book, the Gutenberg Bible printed in the 1450's, was printed it was printed from movable type.  All very labor intensive to be sure, but then again much easier than having to write and rewrite the contents of the book over and over again.  The aforementioned Buddhist text and the Gutenberg Bible are the results of relief printing in which that what is printed is what is left on the surface.  Most people at some time in their educational development have created a relief print.  In elementary school a tried and true art project is the potato print.  This necessitates slicing a potato to create a flat plane and then cutting or gouging out part of that plane.  What is left on the surface of the plane can be dipped in paint or ink and then stamped or printed onto a piece of paper.  The process can be repeated to create more prints.  After all the prints are created the group of prints is known as an edition.  Wood and Linoleum--a product of World War II--are the most common materials used when creating a relief print.

In the mid-1400's, at just about the time the Gutenberg Bible was being printed,  the first intaglio prints were being made in Italy.  The term intaglio is an Italian word that means to incise.  Intaglio, the print process in which Anniversary Year Press specializes, is a print process where imagery is printed from below the surface of a metal plate.  The creation of an intaglio print works on the basis that some areas of the plate are smooth and some has tooth.  The toothy areas hold ink while it is wiped (by hand) from the smooth areas.  An intaglio print is made on a press--a fairly simple machine which includes two rollers.  The lower roller moves the press bed on which the plate and paper are placed.  The upper roller provides the necessary pressure to print the image.  Intaglio's reign as the state-of-the-art fine art printing process lasted roughly 350 years.  By the 1890's, Rotogravure an intaglio printing process in which both text and illustrations  are incised into a metal cylinder, became the main commercial printing process and this lasted until approximately 1970.  In Rotogravure, the cylinder rotates through a trough of ink and the excess ink is then wiped away by the use of a metal blade.  Books, newspapers and magazines were printed in this manner.  Eventually though, Rotogravure became too labor intensive and costly and was replaced by  two seemingly much simpler processes; stencil and planographic printing.

The most viable form of stencil printing, commercially, is silk screen a process that uses a mesh screen--once silk now nylon--with an applied stencil.  Stencil printing is the only one of the basic printing processes that does not reverse the image.  It is still, to this day, used commercially although for the most part it is relegated to printing on fabric.  If you walk out of a concert having bought a T-shirt, chances are it was printed via silk screen.  Stencils in general, have been used for centuries to print on fabric in almost all civilizations.  Often times when we think of Western artists using stencil printing on paper the process is referred to as pochoir which is literally the French word for stencil.  Henri Matisse used pochoir to great advantage and when he created one of his most famous pieces  in 1947, the book Jazz, Matisse printed it by use of pochoir.

Lithography printing is a planographic process.  The matrix for a planographic print is a flat plane.  For a print to be created--in the case of Lithography--the plane is altered chemically to enable an image to be printed.  The basis for Lithography is the simple concept that oil and water do not mix.  The matrix is altered, chemically, to enable areas to either accept or reject ink.  The press used for Lithographic printing differs from those used from etching in that the source of pressure is more akin to a squeegee than a roller.  The matrix for Lithography has traditionally been a limestone block since the process was invented in Germany in 1798.  The word Lithography, itself, comes from the word lithos, the Greek word for stone.  Nowadays, roughened, aluminum plates are used more often than stone.  There are a faction of artists, however who still prefer stone as they believe it yields a richer print.  

As I was going through school I really found I had a facility for one print process--Monotype.  A Monotype is a unique image and technically is planographic.  Breaking the word down--mono meaning one and type meaning kind--a Monotype is a one-of-a-kind print.  This is the case since there is no actual matrix used from which to print.  When creating a Monotype, paint or ink is applied to a non-porous surface and then printed onto another surface, usually paper.  To transfer the image one can use a press or something as simple as a wooden spoon.  Monotype was suggested to me in graduate school as a way to loosen up my painting process.  After graduation, in 1989, I continued to make Monotypes and in 1996 purchased an etching press to help facilitate the printing process.  My monotypes began to be shown throughout the country and also make their way into various collections.  In 1995, I viewed two exhibitions of the Bay Area artist Christopher Brown.  One of the exhibitions was exclusively work on paper and included monotypes, monoprints (a unique  print made from a matrix), woodcuts, lithographs and intaglios.  My favorite images were the intaglios as they exhibited a variety of textures and carried a record of mark making.  When I made intaglio prints as an undergraduate, they consisted mostly as little scratchy lines which was never something in which I was interested.  Brown's intaglio's were rich, painterly pieces and many of them included brilliant color.  The most recent pieces were printed at Crown Point Presswww.crownpoint.com, www.magical-secrets.com, in San Francisco.  Since San Francisco was not far from the Brown exhibit in Palo Alto, I went there see the facility.  Within two years, I was taking summer workshops and learning how to do in my work the magic I saw in Brown's.  I went back in 1998 and 2006 as well as this year--2011.  

One of the more exciting things about taking a workshop at Crown Point is the ability to see the past almost fifty years of art history before your very eyes.  By looking into their burgeoning archives, you can see work done by almost any artist, regardless of style--national or international--that has mattered since 1962.  One of the facts that strikes you when viewing the Crown Point Press portfolio is that no one style dominates.  Artists whose work is predominantly  three dimensional have been invited to work with Crown Point's master printers and have created excellent results.  I find it fascinating to look at the work of sculptors Richard Tuttle and Tony Cragg as well hybrid sculptor/installation artist Judy Pfaff and see how they were able to translate their creativity into intaglio.  To me it illustrates the flexibility, versatility and present-day validity of intaglio.

A technique I learned from my workshops at Crown Point is printing chine colle.  The process of traditional Asian woodblock printing results in the print being printed on a very thin substrate--either silk, which is traditional in China or a very thin tissue-like paper, which is traditional in Japan.  These substrates, though very strong, are much too thin to stand alone so they must be mounted after the printing is finished.  It is almost a lifelong pursuit to learn to mount properly.  The French found that exciting results could be had by printing on either silk or the thin Japanese--often times known as rice--papers.  As often happens, however, the devil lies in the details and the small detail of mounting the prints was devilish indeed.  Not wanting to learn the intricate of mounting the prints the French created a method of printing on the delicate Asian substrates and at the same time mounting the prints on heavier western papers.  The process is called chine--French for tissue--colle--French for glue. 



After the Race version 1, 2006 Soft ground etching, wash resist and spit bite aquatints with aquatint, printed on gampi paper chine colle.



After the Race version 2, 2006 Soft ground etching, wash resist and spit bite aquatints with aquatint, printed in sepia on gampi paper chine colle.


The process of chine colle is involved but in the end is much simpler than the Asian method of mounting.  There is often times nothing better than the delicate Japanese papers on which to print.  I find them exceptionally beautiful when contrasted with a textured, heavy European or domestic paper.  The prints After the Race, versions 1 and 2 find, as mentioned supra, a contemporary horse--Anniversary Year--as their subject.  Though A.Y. is a horse of our time, the print itself was inspired by the old aged horse race win photos often times found adorning the bar area of restaurants.  There is an old Mexican restaurant in northern San Diego county--in California--that has many such photos dating back to the 1950's.  As the photos age, they begin to yellow and the blacks warm and turn toward a sepia tone.  In the proofing process, I couldn't decide whether I preferred the cool black on the white gampi paper which looks to me like the old silver print photos or the version printed in sepia on the more natural colored gampi.  In the end I printed some of each.

A Story About Dreaming in Color

Art in general and printmaking in particular is a great way to communicate.  Because of printmakings's accessibility, it has been often used to communicate in a way that painting, sculpture and other mediums cannot do as easily or effectively.  That is why Japanese woodcuts done in the time of Hokusai and Hiroshige had no set editions.  They were looked upon as we see fliers--another type of communication that is rapidly becoming obsolete--and were done in very large numbers, meant to be given to the masses.  As media is going more towards digital, I fear that anything done on paper will slowly go the way of the Dodo bird.  Even the fax machine--state-of-the-art communication ten years ago--is fast becoming a relic.  When I embark upon a print project, more often than not executed in Intaglio, it is with much thoughtfulness given the time and labor involved.  I have had the idea, as misguided as though it may be, to create a book of intaglio prints.  The inspiration would be an old story my grandmother used to tell me when I was a child.  There could not be too many as they would all be printed by hand--my hands--but then that would lead to their uniqueness.  


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