Albrecht Durer revolutionized the art of printmaking in the early 16th century with the advent of wood blocks. But in the past 500 years, and especially in the last 40, artists have stretched the limits of printmaking, taking the art form into the digital sphere and beyond.
This past Saturday, the newly renovated Yale University Art Gallery hosted a symposium on contemporary printmaking titled “The Contemporary Print: Artists and Masters.” Held in conjunction with the gallery’s featured exhibitions, “Making a Mark: Four Contemporary Artists in Print” and “Jasper Johns: From Plate to Print,” the conference discussed the state of printmaking today, with a focus on artistic collaborations and the possibilities presented by recent technological advancements.
“Making a Mark” features the work of Enrique Chagoya, Carroll Dunham, Kiki Smith and Jane Hammond, the first three of whom participated in the symposium this weekend, and investigates the properties of printmaking and mixing traditional and nontraditional methods. The current Jasper Johns exhibit, on the other hand, explores the more mechanical side of the medium. Curatorial Assistant Elizabeth DeRose, who organized Saturday’s symposium, said that together, the two exhibits demonstrate the interaction between printmaking and other artistic media, including sculpture, drawing and painting.
During the end of her panel discussion, Smith stressed the importance of considering the history of printmaking and incorporating it into one’s work.
“Printmaking delivers a wide-open space with its own unique history,” Smith said, “You must take advantage of the opportunity to explore that history.”
In addition to panels with Smith, Chagoya and Dunham, the conference also included a session during which participants chose between three smaller-sized activities: a print catalyst program with Chagoya, an artist’s talk with Dunham or a tour of the Johns exhibit. According to DeRose, the break-out sessions provided an opportunity to bring people closer to the artists and prints themselves.
“It is not often that people interested in the medium of printmaking get the opportunity to speak with the artists themselves and ask questions about their process and intentions,” DeRose said.
The afternoon culminated in a panel led by three artists with disparate approaches to printmaking: commercial, nonprofit and academic. Andrew Raftery, associate professor of printmaking at the Rhode Island School of Design, represented this last approach.
He said a self-published printmaker should understand his place within the history of the medium and collaborate with other artists and printmakers.
“It is important that students learn a habit of generosity,” Raftery said. “More powerful art will be created in an environment in which students not only make their own work but use their skills to teach others and to help others create their own work.”
Whereas Raftery focused on the cooperative aspect of art, fellow panel member Andre Ribuoli discussed advents in printing technology. Master printer with Pamplemousse Press at Pace Editions in New York. Ribuoli, who uses fairly obsolete printers in his studio, said he has taken advantage of new vinyl cutting machines which allow for detailed, precise line work.
According to DeRose, the symposium was extremely successful in attracting people from outside the University, mostly as a result of invitations sent to the New York Public Library, the National Gallery and networks of local New Haven artists. Artists from New York and New Jersey and students from three nearby art schools — Parsons School of Design, Pratt Institute and RISD — all attended the events, she said.