Postwar Innovations in Printmaking

Specialist Diana Flatto wrote this post about postwar innovations in printmaking, using examples from our May 11 auction of Contemporary Art.

 

From the initial proliferation of engraving in the fifteenth century to the explosion of lithography in the late 1800s, printmaking has experienced myriad “golden ages.” Following WWII, innovations in technology and popular thought invited another resurgence of printmaking in the United States among the Abstract Expressionists, Pop artists, and Minimalists through the 1970s. New printers and publishers, including Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in West Islip, Gemini G.E.L. in Los Angeles and Crown Point Press in San Francisco, enabled artists to experiment with large-format lithography and various other printed media.

 

Lot 141: Jasper Johns, #4, color lithograph, 1976. Estimate $2,500 to $3,500.

 

One example is Jasper Johns’s #4, 1976, an approximately three-foot color lithograph that translates motifs recognizable from his paintings. Historically, a work takes up the majority of the paper it’s printed on, but in this case the lithographed surface takes up less than a quarter of the available surface, and is confined to a corner.

 

Lot 199: Tom Wesselmann, Fast Sketch Still Life with Abstract Painting, color screenprint, 1989. Estimate $5,000 to $8,000.

 

This progress led to monumental-scale works like Tom Wesselmann’s 1989 Fast Sketch Still Life with Abstract Painting. The work is over six feet long,  which would have been impossible using traditional print methods.

 

Lot 87: Josef Albers, White Embossing on Gray IV, one color line-cut embossing, 1971. Estimate $1,500 to $2,500.

 

Artists like Josef Albers created works with experimental techniques, combining chemical embossing with traditional relief printing in White Embossing on Gray IV to create a three-dimensional surface that is deceptively complex.

 

Lot 263: Jennifer Bartlett, 3 p.m. Chair (Black & White), screenprint with hand additions in charcoal, 1993. Estimate $5,000 to $8,000.

 

Contemporary artists continue to experiment with combined media, leading to original works including Jennifer Bartlett’s 3 p.m. Chair (Black & White)which combines screenprint with drawing, making each work unique.

 

Additional examples can be found in the full catalogue.