Archive for Sunday, February 25, 1990


February 25, 1990


Now hear this: Prints aren't posters.

They can be silk screens, etchings or lithographs, made in multiples of 200 or 20, in many colors and sizes.

Or they can be one-of-a-kind pieces of art, using the medium of ink for a specific effect.

"The public isn't generally educated in prints," said Janet Hughes, one of 10 artists represented in a print show now on exhibit at the Artists En Masse gallery, 802 Mass. "They think you push a button and out comes the art. They don't realize it takes a lot of work to lay in each color or set up a screen. It takes a lot of experience before you know how to do that."

"HOT OFF THE Presses," the print show that runs now through March 18, demonstrates just how diverse prints can be. For example, artist Doug Baker presents moody, black-and-white images with hints of faces. Next to his work, viewers find cartoon-like images of surgical scars by Cima Katz.

A technician can print the work for the artists, or the artists themselves can do the print, giving them complete control over the outcome.

"One of the good things about the Artists En Masse show is that most of the prints are by the artists themselves," said Steve Goddard, the print curator at the Helen F. Spencer Museum of Art.

The artists and their gallery owner, Lynne Green, believe the public has little appreciation of the art of print-making.

IN FACT, SINCE the 1960s print-making has taken on a life of its own as a medium, the artists say.

"I feel printing, until recently, was considered something like a stepchild," Hughes said. "There have been a lot of changes in 10 years. . . . There are varied editions, where a print can vary slightly. There's also been cross-pollination by mixing media."

Many artists now make only one print from a plate, rather than a whole series of duplicates, as in traditional print-making. Those editions are called monotypes; instead of a canvas and oil paint, the artist uses paper and ink to create a one-of-a-kind image.

"One thing with a monotype is the page surface," said Baker, a Kansas University graduate student. "The surface is flat. You won't get any of the high ridges or shadows that you do with paint."

IN A VARIED series, the artist changes each print as it goes through the press. Each print is from the same plate, but it's different from all the others in color or arrangement.

"They're more unpredictable," Goddard said. "When the artists are making the prints maybe they'll add pigment or take away pigment. That way each image is unique but it's one of a series that relate to each other. You can't do that with other media."

At the Artists En Masse show, the price range for the prints runs from $125 to $900, the costliest for the one-of-a-kind monotypes.

"Over the years, prints have been seen as more affordable than painting," Hughes said. "There were multiple copies of each print, and so each would cost less. It's still less expensive."

THE WAYS artists can make a print vary widely. In one traditional manner, the artist creates an image on a lithograph plate, a wood carving or an etching. The artist or a printer then makes an impression on a sheet of paper, producing the image. For works requiring more than one color, the paper usually must undergo more than one pressing.

For silk screens, the artist stretches a cloth across a wooden frame, blocking out the parts of the image that won't get ink. The screener then sprays the ink through the screen, distributing it across the paper.

Baker prints his own works as well as those of other artists. He said he went back to school to get out of serving as a technician for other artists, which sometimes can prove difficult.

"It's been described as a marriage," he said. "One of the things about printing for an artist is you have to keep your place. You can't go out of bounds. Yet you've got to be able to lead the artist to a medium."

BUT FOR many artists, printing their work themselves simply costs less than sending it out.

"I print out of economic necessity," said KU print teacher John Talleur, whose work is in the show. "By and large, the cost of producing an edition at a print shop is just too much."

As the medium of printing becomes more diverse, a debate grows over whether a print can be considered an "original," Hughes and Green say. If the artist designs the plate but doesn't print it, the product may not be the same as a painting done by the artist's hand. As the demand for prints from established artists rises, the question of what is an "original" can turn into one of price.

"A LOT OF those issues have been around since the '60s in different ways," Goddard said. "But they've been brought to a head in the last decade as the prices went high. A print by a famous artist can cost over $30,000."

In addition to displaying the works for sale, gallery owner Green has scheduled educational sessions for the public. For example, she'll hold a free print-making demonstration at 2 p.m. March 4.

"I like to do educational shows," she said.

But as prices of paintings by acclaimed artists have risen, so have the prices of prints authorized by those artists.

As for potential buyers, Goddard suggests they look for work that grabs the opportunities of press, screen and ink.

"PEOPLE SHOULD look for a print that makes use of the process as part of the image," he said. "There are effects you get with a lithograph or a woodcut or an etching or a screen that are unique to the medium. People should look for a print that makes use of the special potential of those media."

In addition to Baker, Hughes, Talleur and Katz, the exhibit features the works of Eleanor Erskine, Dan Kirchheffer, Laurie Klopp, Hugh Merrill, Bridget Stewart and Marilyn Summers-Cool. Talleur and Katz appear courtesy of the Kellas Gallery.

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