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Cover Image: To Leave Ad Astra Per Aspera 2, Nhawfal Juma’at, 2019. Image courtesy of the artist.
Printmaking has a storied history. Dating back several centuries, it is closely intertwined with revolutions in communication as it propelled the circulation of information and ideas. Religious texts and images, as well as books, newspapers and other printed matter, dominated the production of early prints. Since the 15th century, the craft-bound tradition of printmaking shifted from a medium valued for its reproductive capabilities to an artistic form capable of fostering innovative expression. It has increasingly become a recognisable field in the visual arts.
Comprising a spectrum of techniques and methods including etching, lithography, woodcut, screen printing and linocut, prints are nevertheless created through a process based on the principle of transferring images from a matrix onto a surface. To create the matrix, chemicals or tools are employed to create an image on a surface such as wood, metal, stone, plastic and linoleum, which is later inked by the artist or master printer. The image is then transferred onto another surface, usually paper or fabric, thereby creating a print. Machines like printing presses may be employed to assist in this final step of the process. Each print is referred to as an impression. With the exemption of monotypes, multiple impressions which are printed from a specific matrix form an edition.
In general, prints are produced in two different ways, on the one hand, the artist draws, prepares and prints the entire work himself, with or without assistance. Alternatively, an artist with little understanding of the print process could seek technical knowledge and expertise from a master printer. Working with or relying on the services provided by a master printer became increasingly necessary as the technology of printing became more complex after the 18th century. This was particularly true for lithography as well as other photomechanical processes, which require extensive equipment and technical mastery. That said, there was limited discussion between the artist and the printer, and no real collaboration as we understand of the word today.
The flourishing of collaborative print studios since the 1960s has played a critical role in supporting and stimulating the creative process and potentialities of printmaking by allowing for dynamic dialogue and exchange between artist and master printer. As the artists involved in the collaborations may have little or no prior experience in printmaking, the experience provides them with the opportunity to experiment with technical processes in a different medium, embracing different modes of working and conceptualising their works. With master printers continuing their experimentation with technical processes, artists can engage with different approaches and expressions made possible by this versatile and democratic medium. Artists also value the collaborative print studio for providing access to equipment, tools and materials—presses, etching rooms, ventilated spray booths, inks, grounds, solvents, acids, plates and an assortment of papers—that are not readily available, freeing them from having to devote financial resources and space to the purchase and maintenance of printmaking equipment.
Presently, there are numerous collaborative print studios around the world which have become important sites for artistic exchange and experimentation with print. Through their activities and collaborative endeavours, these print studios encourage and nurture the formation of communities where proprietary printmaking knowledge is shared rather than hoarded. Many of these studios also run residency programmes to collaborate with local and international artists on a body of work as well as organise exhibitions. In some cases, the print studio also takes on the role of selling the works and building a collector base for print by tapping into their networks.
This essay is written in conjunction with the exhibition Intersections at Esplanade’s Jendela (Visual Arts Gallery), which showcases prints by Singaporean artists created in collaboration with Pulp Editions, one of several print studios in Singapore. Featured in this essay are five print studios from around the world that have contributed to the art of printmaking as well as the vitality of the art ecologies of their cities or countries. Spanning various geographies, contexts and temporalities, these studios highlight various embodiments of collaborative practices that are unique to each workshop, their master printers and circumstances. Nevertheless, they are similar in their unwavering and unrestrained efforts to support artists’ aesthetic and material experiments with printmaking techniques while broadening conversations around notions of experimentation, collaboration and negotiation.
Paris, France; New York, United States
In the history of modern printmaking and the graphic arts, the significance of the experimental print studio Atelier 17 is paramount. Established by Stanley William Hayter (1901-88) in 1927 in Paris as an informal workshop, Atelier 17 democratised the medium as well as redefined the organisation and objectives of the traditional printmaking studio.
This collaborative and egalitarian environment was open to people with varying levels of skill and experience with printmaking, while at the same time eschewing the traditional hierarchies between teacher and student. Atelier 17 became a laboratory of sorts, where spontaneity and improvisation were encouraged. Techniques and discoveries were freely shared by artists to create new potentialities for printmaking. Among the myriad techniques developed at Atelier 17 were novel ways to execute simultaneous colour printing. The studio also served as a locus for both established and emerging figures, nurturing systems of support that were also instrumental in the creative and professional development of artists.
Mirroring Europe's turbulent pre-war history, Hayter relocated the studio to New York City from 1940-55. Atelier 17 provided a convergence point for young American artists and the figures from the European émigré avant-garde. Recent scholarship by art historian Christina Weyl has also spotlighted the female members of Atelier 17 in New York including Louise Bourgeois and Sue Fuller, amongst others. The equalitarian model of the studio facilitated women artists’ contributions to experimental printmaking, and acted as a conduit for their extraordinary professional achievements, redefining beliefs about gender norms and identity during a period when the notions of the feminine ideal were still relegated to home and hearth.
In 1950, Hayter returned to Paris and re-established the studio. Reflecting a post-war cosmopolitanism, the studio attracted artists from all over the world. Asian artists affiliated with Atelier 17 include Krishna Reddy, who was co-director of the workshop from 1964 to 1976; Zarina Hashmi; Takesada Matsutani; as well as Singaporean artists Chng Seok Tin and Eng Joo Heng. Following the death of Hayter in 1988, Atelier 17 was been renamed as Atelier Contrepoint and remains active in Paris. The spirit of Atelier 17 and its associated artists continue to remain influential in the teaching, pollination and promotion of printmaking.
Los Angeles, United States
Founded in 1966, Gemini Graphics Editions Limited (G.E.L.) is an artist’s workshop, gallery and publisher of hand-printed, limited edition prints and sculptures. Its history has been closely intertwined with contemporary printmaking in the US and advancements in this field. The Gemini story started out with Sidney B. Felsen and Stanley Grinstein roping in renowned master printer Kenneth Tyler to oversee the running of the workshop. Since then, it has had other master printers helming its operations. Its first project was with painter and printmaker Josef Albers. This institution has worked with over 75 artists and this roster continues to grow.
Gemini gained a reputation for its dynamic collaborations with artists, and its ability and devotion to handle complex, technical challenges in order to realise the artist’s vision and needs. Co-founder Felsen said of how Gemini functions, “The whole spirit is invitational. We decide whom to invite but, beyond that, they are free to experiment. We have always tried to figure out how to fulfil an artist’s wishes.” Artists like Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Richard Serra are amongst several who had sustained partnerships with Gemini.
These collaborations led to several milestones in contemporary art. Robert Rauschenberg’s Booster (1967) was a life-sized self-portrait created out of lithography and screen printing methods. The print began pushing the boundaries of printmaking, thereby heralding the entry of print as a medium that could challenge the dominance of painting. Ellsworth Kelly’s Purple/Red/Gray/Orange (1988), which at nearly six metres in length, is one of the largest single-sheet lithographs ever made. These developments from the mid-20th century onward demonstrated how print offered considerable scope for experimentation and had a distinctive voice of their own, just like other mediums do. The Gemini workshop plays a significant role in translating artists’ print ideas into appropriate material forms. Today it continues to chart new territories in its collaborations with artists and holds exhibitions at its premises.
Studio Grafis Minggiran is an art collective in Yogyakarta, which focuses on the development of printmaking techniques. It was founded in 2001 by Alfin Agnuba, Danang Hadi, Maryanto, Theresa Agustina Sitompul, Rully Putra Adi, Deni Rahman and Nawangseto who were, at the time, Graphic Art students at the Indonesia Institute of the Arts, Faculty of Fine Arts in Yogyakarta. Established as a space to support the production of their own work and foster collaboration between members, activities at the studio over the past few years, while informal, aspire to promote printmaking in Indonesia and are driven by the following pillars: Research and Documentation, Exhibitions, Residency Programme, and Community Outreach and Education.
Today, the creative workspace at Studio Grafis Minggiran is accessible to anyone interested in printmaking practices as well as expanding the discourse and research on the medium in Indonesia. To facilitate their support, Studio Grafis Minggiran organises several types of residency programmes. For example, artists staying in Yogyakarta for a short period of time can develop their works with guidance from the studio’s master printers whose technical expertise lie in etching, aquatint, drypoint, alugraphy, linocut and woodcut. In addition to working with the studio’s printers, visiting artists also have the opportunity to connect with Yogyakarta’s artistic community. The studio is also open to hosting curators and researchers interested in the history of printmaking in Indonesia.
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Creative print collaborations are a core part of what Chiang Mai Art on Paper (C.A.P) Studio does. This custom printmaking workshop invites Thai and international artists to work with its trained master printers to produce limited edition fine art prints, providing them access to its resources at no cost. These collaborations are driven by experimentations with printmaking techniques such as lithography, silkscreen printing, and wood block printing and etching. Artists are able to explore and push the potential of the medium with the support and expertise of the studio’s master printers. The growing list of artists who have passed through this space include Jason Phu from Australia and established Thai artists Tawatchai Puntusawasdi and Udom Udomsrianan.
Founded in 2002, C.A.P Studio had its beginnings in its founder artist Kitikong Tilokwattanotai’s studio apartment. This project has since expanded and relocated to a standalone building in Nimmanhaemin in the heart of Chiang Mai where it has established a reputation as a hub for artists and print enthusiasts to gather. C.A.P Studio has become one of the key touch points in Chiang Mai’s thriving contemporary art scene for the local arts community and international artists, curators and art workers.
There is a distinct rhythm and communal spirit that permeates the space. While it neither has a formal exhibition space nor a roster of regular events, the studio prides itself on keeping its doors open to everyone. Its staff are ever ready to show its facilities to visitors and share what the workshop is working on. In conversations and interactions with Kitikong and the master printers, one can easily discern their commitment to the craft of printmaking. It is this desire to share the passion for printmaking that drives the studio and keeps the community growing and flourishing.
Auckland, New Zealand
International exchanges and collaborations are also being driven and initiated by Auckland Print Studio (APS). Founded in 2008 by John Pusateri, APS has been working collaboratively with artists to create original fine art prints. Presently, Pusateri is joined by Jan Philip Raath; and aside from their work with artists from New Zealand, APS also organises an international Artists-in-Residence programme. This programme is open to artists working across a variety of mediums. During the residency, artists receive support and resources such as accommodation, materials, studio space, and a collaborative printer or assistant. International artists are responsible for the costs of air travel and food, and at the end of the residency, the printed editions are split evenly between APS and the artist.
For Pusateri and Raath, collaboration is a dynamic force—the benefits of working together with other artists are numerous, as they are constantly learning, being exposed to, and absorbing different working methodologies and ideas. For example, in 2011, the residency of Tiffany Singh—whose work has been presented at the Esplanade Concourse (2014-15)—challenged Pusateri’s perception of colour. The collaborative work resulted in a series of sound generated lithographs that combined the vibrational qualities of sonic elements and colour.
Invested in acquiring and improving their print equipment and technologies, APS recently purchased a Mailänder Offset Proofing Press which can be used to print lithography stones, photo-plates, woodcuts, linocuts, letterpress type, and monotypes, and allows for increased production and scope as well as a more affordable service to artists. As both Pusateri and Raath continue to pursue their individual practices while running APS, they also strive towards sustainable models for production, expansion of the programme, as well as finding a collector-base for their prints; striking a balance between commercial as well as more experimental works.
 Interview between Sidney Felsen and Evan Moffitt, ‘Modern Multiples’, Frieze, 22 Sep 2016.
Intersections runs from 16 October 2020 to 10 January 2021 at Jendela (Visual Arts Space). Head here to find out more about the exhibition.
Lynda Tay is an Assistant Programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay working and developing the centre's Visual Arts programme.
Lu Xiaohui is a Programmer at Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay who oversees the curation of exhibitions and visual arts programmes at the centre.