|Print | Back||September 15, 2014|
Moments in ArtMany Down to One
by Lawrence Jeppson
Despite the negative things I said last week about reproductions, I have a few qualifications to make. I think quality mass reproductions of great art can have significant educational value. I refer to the quality you get in museum shops.
Almost any reproduction is better than bare walls. I think of the tens of thousands of homes and businesses in Canada where the calendar reproductions of Northwest Mounted Police depictions by Arnold Friberg grace the walls. They have no monetary value, but they give pleasure. And appreciation for Mountie folklore.
The long-time definition of legitimate, limited-edition, fine-art prints required that the artist’s hand had to be present in making the plates (or stones, or screens, etc.) from which the prints were made. Said another way, the prints had to be the hands-on work of the artist.
This distinction is blurred when the artist’s original is created through a mechanical scanner, like pictures are reproduced for newspapers and magazines. If the number of prints is severely limited and every step of the way is subject to the artist’s approval, then these can be a legitimate product.
Distinctions are further blurred by the advent of the computer and development of giclée prints. Giclées can skip the tedious process of making screens and plates. And they can be far better in matching the most complex original art.
Mite nuances are detected and printed. The computer-driven printers are extremely accurate. Originally, colors tended to fade, but this problem has been overcome.
That’s why many artists now prefer to do limited-edition giclées, which they inspect sheet by sheet and sign. In reality, it is a new form of art. Some artists do their entire creative process on a computer, using various sophisticated programs.
When I was in Salt Lake City about nine years ago I was shown a giclée of Friberg’s famous Prayer at Valley Forge. It was large, 84% (as I recall) the size of the original. It was hung side-by-side to the original. It was difficult to discern any difference. Since then, a number of these have been printed and now hang in important civic locations throughout the country.
While Friberg was still alive, and under his meticulous in-place supervision of the photography and printing, limited-edition giclées were made of his famous Book of Mormon paintings.
The thought crosses my mind, would not the world be blessed esthetically if museums would produce full-size, giclée reproductions of some of their greatest works and make them available to other public institutions?
The technology exists. Where is the philanthropist who will finance the enterprise? If I were younger, I’d agitate for it, even though I will not allow a photo-mechanical reproduction to hang on my walls. I could make my painting suggestions. My list probably would not include the Mona Lisa.
Before photography, if a king or rich nobleman or merchant wanted to have a reproduction of a famous painting owned by someone else, he dispatched his best court painter to make a replica. Rubens did a lot of this.
Now that I have made amends (clarifications) of what I said last week, I’d like to return to something else I said, the making of monotypes. I concluded last week’s “Moments in Art” with the tragic story of my friend Edouard Jaquenoud and the illustration of one of his monotypes, a nature print.
A monotype is a one-of-a-kind print.
When multiple color prints are made, a new plate or screen must be made for each individual color. Each color is printed singly on the entire print run. Then the next color is printed. Then the next, until all the colors have been laid down, one at a time.
A monotype is quite different.
The artist makes a colorless engraving or etching on his printing plate. This might be compared to an outline drawing. Then the artist inks the plate, using regular pigments or printing ink. In effect, he paints his picture on the plate.
While the surface is still wet, a single paper impression is made using a regular press. This may be done by the artist himself or by a skilled printer. Jaquenoud did his own work using a press that once had been used by Ambroise Vollard to print the famous editions the Paris dealer published.
Only one impression can be made. The ink is mostly gone. To use the plate again the artist must re-ink it. He may choose to re-ink it differently, changing a color here or a color there, or all the colors. Since he cannot precisely match any pull, each print will be different, and each will be a monotype.
In the case of Jaquenoud, he might have created lithographic stones and used them to print a number of sheets. But as soon as he introduced a leaf or a plant to be inked and printed directly, that greenery was destroyed in the process, and the print became a monotype, one of a kind.
From 1917-1921, William Henry Clapp produced monotypes. He had learned a great deal about the benefits of art prints when studying in Paris. Settling in Oakland, California, perhaps he wanted to create some originals that would be cheaper and easier to sell than his oil paintings.
My photographs of Clapp’s monotypes need considerable retaking or brightening, but here are a few:
Clapp seldom painted portraits. Because it is a monotype, he could re-ink the plate and make variations until he achieved the result he wanted. This one is beautifully done. Possibly it was a recollection of his older sister, who died at 19. If so it was not a thing he would want to sell.
Men rarely entered Clapp’s art. Women frequently do, usually in a fantasy mode. It is possible that this picture is a wish, Clapp imagining himself as the fortunate man.
The model enters through the drapes. The extraordinary height of the ceiling, the huge easel, which acts as a frame to what he is painting, and all the surroundings suggest wealth. The painter is Clapp, painting in a world of his imagination and wish.
Forty years ago I met Tsing-fang Chen when we both participated in Formosan freedom peaceful street demonstrations in Washington, D.C., against the repressive Kuo-ming-tang regime in Taiwan. Tsing-fang, who was a world leader in Formosan cultural affairs, came from France to paint banners and placards.
Because I had served in the French Mission, spoke French, and was involved in art, Tsing-fang and I quickly bonded.
Shortly afterwards he immigrated to New York City and subsequently moved to the Washington area so that we could collaborate. (Some years later he returned to SoHo, Manhattan, where he and his wife Lucia built a gallery and international cultural center.)
In Paris he had made a number of “hydro-gravures.” So he had some experience making multiple originals. I repeatedly urged him to make prints, which he could sell for less than his paintings and which would extend his recognition in the United States more rapidly.
Chen obtained studio time and equipment use at the art school of the Corcoran Museum in downtown Washington. Frances and I joined him one evening when he was experimenting with monoprinting. Instead of Neo-Iconography, for which he subsequently became internationally famous, his images this night were impressions of Taiwan villages.
When the evening at the Corcoran was over, Tsing-fang gave me the best of the Taiwan Village in monotypes, which he signed and dedicated. When I framed it, I subtly quintuple matted it and used a bright copper-colored metal frame.
To this day, this small monotype remains one of my most enjoyable and cherished possessions.
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