Notes on Printmaking
Updated: Mar 19, 2019
You have no idea how lucky I feel to be able to attend the Printmaking Lectures given by Professor Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard University. Lectures focus on printmaking and its inherent forms of intelligence as powerful means that shaped contemporary art, culture and technology.
The Matrix: Contemporary Art and Life of Print
Professor Jennifer L. Roberts, Harvard University
I am sitting somewhere in the middle, not too far from the projector screen (to see everything), not too far from the professor (too hear everything). Of course, I am trying to catch every word and phrase, but you know how it is: some ideas capture your mind so quickly, you start wandering, and then you have to control yourself to come back to the lecture room, to focus, not to miss anything. Lectures are very intense. Looking at my notes, I see that some points are missing, and still, some hints remain. See my notes below. Notes on the last two remaining lectures will be added later.
Lectrure 2: Pressure
Four elements of printing:
1. matrix: object that bears the image to be printed;
2. support: surface that receives the image;
3. ink: substance transferrer
A print is an object that has been made by transferring an image between two surfaces in direct contact.
Creative and disruptive pressure
*photography doesn’t involve pressure
Examples of pressure in printing:
Etching. A metal plate is coated with wax. Marks are made into this ground through various means exposing the metal. The plate is placed into acid which etches the exposed metal. Ink is then pushed into these etched marks to create the print.
In lithography, the marks are made on the matrix are fixed by applying a mixture of gum arabic and acid surface. This process, sometimes, called etching, creates a chemical change in the stone or plate that renders the marked areas ink-attractive and the unmarked areas ink-repellent.
Lithographic stone broke down during the printing process.
Screenprinting. This method creates prints by pushing ink with the squeegee through a stencil on a fabric mesh. Stencils can be made by using paper, screen filler, resist fluid, or UV light sensitive emulsion.
Monoprint. A unique print from a matrix that contains information and is capable of making multiple but has been treated in a unique way, either through inking, wiping, etc.
Monotype. A unique print generated from an unrepeatable matrix. Typically made by applying viscous ink onto a smooth, non-absorbent plate of copper, aluminium, or plastic, then topping the plate with paper and running it through a press, monotypes have historically been considered “painterly” prints. No etched, engraved lines on the matrix.
Willie Cole (American, b. 1955) is known for his mixed media sculptures that focus on the cultures of West Africa. His upbringing by both his mother and grandmother in the 1960s has had a lasting impact on his work, as his continued use of irons in his sculptures signifies the domestic role of African women during this time. His choice to work with irons comes signifies domestic labour of his grandmother. He started exploring the shape of iron early in his career.
The logical sequence could be derived as follow: the shape of iron looks like boats – ironing like shipping – slave trade.
Willie Cole works with master printer Cole Rogers.
The Beauty Series features 28 prints, created by flattening ironing boards to become direct printing plates.
The first task was to find different ironing boards. But apparently, ironing boards are the same these days, even different bands come from China (globalization). Yet, for his other works, he used different brand of irons (heraldry).
Process of printing The Beauty series:
-23 vintage iron boards found
-First flattening – ironing board warriors
-Second flattening – to 4-5mm thickness (original paints remain)
-Printing ironing boards directly onto paper.
-Printing names (each board is treated with affection and intimacy; names are the link to black woman generation, his Grandmothers’ names);
-Five boards were printed from both sides
-Large prints (5 Beauties rinsing - 161.3 × 285.8 cm; Virgin of Wisdom - 104.1 × 148.6 cm; Stowage - 142 x 266 cm)
- Associations of beauty and violence: intelligence of pressure
- Feminist work ironing becomes masculine
- Luminous, transparency of the prints
- Politics and religion intersect
Urgency and power in prints
Orientation of the prints is natural representation of a human body. It is shaped like a body – names, standing. Full length portrait – printing standing figure. This evokes western portraiture of queens. On the opposite, ironing is horizontal, referencing support, ability to withstand pressure and heat.
Queenprint – detailed examination reveals a royal veil.
They do not occupy stable orientation.
Political and social power – domestic labour.
David Hammons executed his “body prints” by smearing margarine or other grease on his skin, clothes, and hair, pressing himself against a large sheet of paper, and then dusting the oily imprint with ground pigment.
uplifting – charging with dignified memories
emphasize the endurance, resistance
Beauty not stands, it withstands.
2. The wound-image
Christ in the winepress, 1490-1500
Wound – body – image
Slave or victim of other forms
Decorative impression of the Beauty Series print: printed boards look like robes.
Pattern making - textile design.
Lightness and transparency
Topography and texture
Illusion of seeing it through
Print gives more information than the used boards. Printing sees topography more clearly than human eye.Topography is interpreted by a press. Though blind physical process non-visible becomes visible (connections to x-ray, forensic power).
4. The art of pressing
Rich and complex contribution to printing of art: showing both sides of the object; internal light of the present, black body without stereotypes and judgement; a dialogue pf the present and past;
Beauty series’ portraits of women are the ones he remembers from his childhood.
board – to stand in human body; for whom does it stand?
Ironing sees 2 layers. Ironing erases some kind of information, forms.
complexities of printing
Endurance and suffering; danger and power of pressure
The importance is where the inspiration comes from: grandmothers with irons in their hands.
Lecture 3: Reversal and Dorsality
Reversal is fundamental renewal of printing. Matrix and print have a special relationship. Matrix stays behind, vanishing from the scene of art history/ contemporary art history; print occupies the attention. In printing, communication depends on reversal.
Print intersects the way of symmetry.
Jasper Johns (b. 1930, American) refuses to leave his matrix behind. The matrix occupies his final print. Flipped, hinged, it gives the negative intelligence of a print.
Text makes reverse very conspicuous. What does it have to do to communication, discussion?
“Printmaking makes your mind work in a different way”,Jasper Johns, 1979
E.g. we are symmetric, but with tendency to choose either side: right-handed, etc.
In Ocean Surface Woodcut 1992, Celmins (b. 1938, Latvian-American) cut the drawing itself into the wood surface so that her incisions translated in reverse to become the un-inked white lines of the print. This is a highly graphic and stylised technique, even more so than the related wood engraving.
Richard Diebenkorn (1922 – 1993, American) liked seeing his images in the unfamiliar territory of reversal, and he liked making them in an unfamiliar way. The processes of etching and drypoint don’t allow a drawing to be fully seen until it is printed. As printers, we know this can be frustrating for artists, but also we have noticed a kind of exhilaration as, drawing on a copper plate, an artist gets on the wavelength of the work. Some part of the print, at least, becomes a surprise. Dick liked the surprises, but always found his prints needed nudging, changing, correcting to make them finally work.
John Cage (1912-1992, American) began making prints after a long and distinguished career as a musical composer. The title of this series refers to the seven-day period over which he made the prints, completing one each day. When he began, he did not know the technical aspects of the printmaking processes he was going to use, but learned them as he worked with assistance from the professional printers. Over the course of seven days, he tried all the processes available to him at Crown Point Press. He chose a paper he liked as well as the horizontal format and the size of the margins. He selected modest sized copper plates that floated within a twelve-inch central square, and determined the size and shape of his plates by consulting his I Ching charts. His attitudes developed from his studies of Zen Buddhism. By creating a sense of emptiness, he expressed visually the Zen state of “not knowing.”
Ability to work in reversal – like a mystery, working with the other side.
Judgement and assessment – proof; proof & reversal; acting of testing; demonstration of truth
Reverse implies the refusal to accept status quo.
Active printing; conspicuous; desperately pushing forward; face || store -> print.
“I want images free themselves from me.”
Corita Kent (1918-1986) was an American Roman Catholic religious sister, artist, and educator.
prodigious & prestigious; modernize the faith: Catholics were advised to be involved in social causes; Warhol was her friend: they attended each other’s exhibitions; spiritual and aesthetic side; advertising language as spiritual; commercialized screenprinting.
In the screenprinting process the image is not reversed. Because there is no reversal, that doesn’t mean that there is no reversal. Matrix is transparent, the reverse is always there.
Rubens (1577-1640, Flemish) supervised the engravers who reproduced his paintings throughout his career. Only in the early 1630s did he turn to woodcuts, in close collaboration with Christoffel Jegher. These monumental drawings are models based on a composition also known from Rubens’s painting in the Museo del Prado, Madrid. They were made for Jegher’s woodcuts, which reproduce them in reverse. The initial design in black chalk is by Rubens, while most of the rest of the drawing can be attributed to a workshop assistant. The drawings essentially transform the composition into a frieze, most notably by dividing it into two separate parts, pushing the figures to the foreground and cropping the architecture at the top. This frieze-like adaptation gives the figural groups a wonderful immediacy.
Reverse - perfect embodiment of the principle of print;
Dialogue rather than dictatorial.
Different sides of position, acknowledgment of different.
Glenn Ligon (b. 1960, American): reversals have to be examined through prints; neon is technically not printing, but the way it is displayed, is something similar.
Binary printmaking in relationship to race.
Testing, proofing whether it works
Sinister reversal print
Front – back interplay;
Darker side of reversal;
Pessimistic compared to Kent.
Raw-War is Nauman's first word-image print. In 1968 he had made a drawing of the phrase RAW WAR, exploring its potential as a palindrome where words read the same in reverse order.
Inside out; displacement, loss of securement
Hock E Aye Edgar Heap of Birds, Art of America cover, 2017
do not dance for pay, 2018
Writing on reverse – printing correct;
Host – ongoing project since the late 1980s
Commercially printed signs, site-specific; relocated in order to form America.
Reverse text holds double directionality.
Live and present encounter;
Voiced from the other side;
Used to express loss of place/land (in American’s history)
Special capacities of print;
Oscillating reversal prints
Lecture 4: Screens and Membranes
Last of the printmaking technique to be invented, screenprinting is originated in ~1913 ~California. A similar method was known long time ago in East Asia, as Katagami dyeing process, where open areas secured by hair or silk threads.
Screenprints had a reputation for flat, bold, rich, opaque/transparent/reflecting, unvariegated areas of colour, becoming strictly commercial method; appealing in advertising.
Once screenprinting expanded to incorporate photo-mechanical halftones from the commercial/industrial sector, it gave voice to these new creative impulses in a way that etching and lithography never could. Screenprints became the preferred medium for art as communication.
Josef Albers (1888–1976) was a German-born American artist and educator whose work, both in Europe and in the United States, formed the basis of modern art education programs of the twentieth century.
Halftone print examples:
Screenprinting was strictly commercial before Warhol.
Artists showed no interest in screenprinting, as it looked like propaganda. Even the new word serigraph was invented to make it sound solid and different. Also, screenprints were not allowed in print competitions.
Mechanical method; Andy has a commercial background; was working against Willem de Kooning, Composition, 1955
Andy Warhol announced his disengagement from the process of aesthetic creation in 1963: “I think somebody should be able to do all my paintings for me,” he told art critic G.R. Swenson. The Abstract Expressionists had seen the artist as a heroic figure, alone capable of imparting his poetic vision of the world through gestural abstraction. Warhol, like other Pop artists, used found printed images from newspapers, publicity stills, and advertisements as his subject matter; he adopted silkscreening, a technique of mass reproduction, as his medium. And unlike the Abstract Expressionists, who searched for a spiritual pinnacle in their art, Warhol aligned himself with the signs of contemporary mass culture.
Is print on canvas still a print? Or is it a painting? Print vs painting.
Is it art when print is on the wall? In journals?
Recommended reading on screenprinting:
On the negative side of the debates on screenprinting, there were several points, such as descaling, doming the painting; removal of expertise; evacuation of painter techniques; withdrawal qualities of the image. Nonetheless, screenprinting demand attention, technical skills.
Mesh itself in a screenprinting is a part of history. Bolting cloth – original. Screenprinting is literally made from the material sifting flours.
Screenprint belonged to commercial, vulgar world, and flour - to elite life, luxury.
Technologies caries past acts into the present and permits [technical innovators] to disappear while also remaining process.
Post-war, pop artist (b.1937); Standard Station – the first print (oxymoronic place, standard setting, hyperbolic perspective, in 60s).
He was commissioned by London, Alecto Studios (print studio). Here, not a process but processing medium was important. It came as logical series, deriving from historic recipes, e.g. egg – tempera. First order stencils – hand-cut-letters. It matters what stays behind and what goes through. Equally both. Project was created in London, and site-specific ingredients (food used as ink) gave Britishness to the entire project.
News – processing of matter, processing of data.
British in US giving political references.
Problem of refinement
He chose to work with icons of his days - movie stars, singers, such as Monro, Elvis, Silver Liz
You assume that the person in the artwork is happy and positive, but Warhol relates it with death.
Course appearance, rough half-tone screening, exaggerating the rule of printing. Too much/too less ink, the image/fame faints away.
Warhol embrace of subjects traditionally considered debased—from celebrity worship to food labels—has been interpreted as both an exuberant affirmation of American culture and a thoughtless espousal of the “low.” The artist’s perpetual examination of themes of death and disaster suggest yet another dimension to his art.
Pop Art – vulgarity and luxury, entertainment and violence, contamination, and new artists have turned with relish.
Lecture 5: Colour separation
There are separate areas that attract many discussions in the field. To name a few: fugitivity of colour, colonial background, global origins of colour, etc. Target of this lecture to examine what is specific to printing.
1. disassembled (needs to be broken down to be printed);
2. tactile (first it has to be managed as substance);
3. arbitrary (relationship with forms);
4. conceptual (needs to be handled in deliberate way).
1. Dissembling colours
Printing is binary instrument, availability or unavailability of print, one colour at a time (with few exceptions).
How do prints become colourful?
- Apply colour after it is printed - done by colourists in colouring rooms (German immigrant woman with assigned colour stencil), error of colouring can be seen.
- A la poupée – differentially inking the plate for each impression
- Break up the plate – jigsaw woodblock printing
These techniques share several issues: the process is slow, difficult to repeat. In a way, printing in colour is fundamentally like a puzzle.
Julie Mehretu’s work is about layers: the physical layering of images, marks, and mediums, and the figurative layering of time, space, and history (vertical and temporal layering). In this work, 32 different matrices were made to print single particular colour.
Although form the initial look the print suggests it being monochrome and monotonic, deeper investigation reveals its rich content. 27 different matrices layers are skilfully used to merge newspaper letters, reflective paints, paints to amend colour or add it on top of the previous layers into the final complex print.
Colours need to be broken down to be printed. At the same time, it gives dimensionality – stacks of layers with colours provide extra degree of freedom, the fourth dimension.
Four colour printing method -> CMYK (modern)
In 18thcentury, Jacob Le Blon, a painter and engraver from Frankfurt, invented the system of four-colour printing, using an RYBK colour model, similar to the modern CMYK system.
Once you pull colour apart, you have to put them back together in perfect juxtaposition. Often exaggerated colour mis-registration can appear. To register colours is very difficult, and the most difficult medium for registering colours is intaglio. Many problems have to be overcome: stretching of a paper (with every plate paper moves around, enlarges, thus, pre-stretched paper has to be used or subsequent plate has to be larger); bigger paper causes more problems, such as wrinkling; paper no longer absorbs colours (physical limit - six or seven plates).
Note: look at the plate mark– how many different plates were used to print the image?
Some of the listed problems can be avoided using dry paper.
After the middle of 19th century, the Japanese prints were available to the world and were the source of inspiration to many artists worldwide. Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), an American painter and printmaker, is one of the most significant artists at colour intaglio printing.
Colour lithography offers better control of colour registration.
Press is not optical element. Textual, viscous properties of the paint have to understand before printing. How quickly dries, how damp, sticky paint is. Here colour is nor optical phenomenon, but blob of viscous matter that gives response. CMYK vs KCMY: colour sequence has to be evaluated.
In printing, colour becomes certain optical phenomenon: separate in optical wave but reassembled in practice. Separate colours are aggregated but can never be fully restored.
In paintings, colour and brushstroke are one and the same, inseparable.
In printing, colour gets its own independent existence.
Colour is not on the matrix. During the actual printing, the screen marks it place, not its colour.
In this work Johns plays with perceptual cues, posing the linguistic against the visual by mismatching the words for colors with the inks they are printed in—for example, writing the word "yellow" in blue ink. Johns printed a second composition in grays and black using the same stones, a strategy that became one of his common practices in printmaking.
Clear disjunction between text and print and colour. Colour is free from representation matter.
However, printed colour has to obey material.
4. Conceptual: elaborate colours have to be meticulously planned.
Painting is done like by a printing press in a consistent methodical way. Different colours in layers one after another.
Fundamentally printaryidea of the artwork.
Breakthrough oil and silkscreen ink on canvas
Kinetic, dynamic quality of artwork: it looks like veils shimmering in the wind. Imperfect, alluding to TV, not glitched but pictorial alienation.
Can colours have a meaning? Segregation: races are being connected to colour and layering
This site specific artwork is inspired by French artist Paul Philippoteaux’s nineteenth-century cyclorama, referring to Pickett’s Charge - the final charge of the Battle of Gettysburg, which historians cite as the critical turning point of the Civil War and, consequently, of American history (view 360 video of the 1883 original). Working with a combination of colored paper and reproductions of the original, Bradford transformed the historic Gettysburg imagery into a series of eight powerful, abstract paintings. By cutting, tearing, and scraping through the layers, Bradford reveals the hidden textures and complexities lurking just beneath the surface. Each painting is more than forty-five feet long, and together they encircle the entire inner-circle galleries.
Collect printed matter, place it in water, stick it to the wall, and later it starts peeling off layers – the entire process shows the disruption of history.
Only separation is not disassembled. Closer you get, it becomes less clear as one idea. It can never be really reassembled again.
Lecture 6: Invisible Labour
Read about Professor J. L. Roberts's Mindingmaking project here.
Lecture on woodwork can be found here.
How important is it to go to a printmaking studio? In the studio, you are forcefully confronted with the grounding conditions or the enabling operations that go into making art but are usually not acknowledge. Geometrical complexity of the image; reverse relation of the plate and the image; direct contributions to the process, like wiping the plate for intaglio; hygiene; nonhuman agents – the press – on the scene of making; collaboration between an artist and a printmaker are only several examples of invisible labour. However, in the talk, the main focus lies within the existential form of invisibility in Relief printing.
To carve a plate requires enormous skill, but its paradoxical outcome is the production of black space in the final print. Signs of carving remain, showing time and effort dedicated to the artwork, but the artwork itself forces labouring into a state of disappearance.
Early examples of woodcut printing:
The advent of woodblock printing led to a system of relatively cheap mass production, and playing cards (15th century) are known to be an early product of printing technology.
Notes from the video: pearwood is the most common to use; design transferred as follow: chalk is applied to the back of the drawing, then the drawing is placed on the woodblock, the lines are traced with a stylus, transferring the chalk to the block, chalk lines are fixed using ink, gauges and knives are used to cut away the wood on either side of the drawn lines; ink can be transferred onto the paper under pressure using a press, or in cases for small prints, hands and spoon.
Comparing relief printing and intaglio printing, one can see that relief printing requires less pressure, is less expensive, provide ten times more impressions, and can be integrated with letterpress. Therefore, relief printing was used for mass media and dissemination.
Another improvement of printing technology came from Thomas Bewich (1753-1828), considered to be an inventor of wood engraving. He adopted metal-engraving tools to cut hard boxwood across the grain, producing printing blocks that could be integrated with metal type, but were much more durable than traditional woodcuts. The result was high-quality illustration at a low price.
Mid-late 19th century, newspapers were filled with wood engraved illustrations. Large newspapers used images made from several woodblocks (~16 different people working on a single image). Master printer would ‘clean’ the image, join separate woodblocks. Disassemble image and then reassemble images were in the elaborate system of division of labour.
In a way, intaglio printing evolves positive to positive translation. You engrave the line and this line appears on the print. However, relief printing holds certain absurdity: the finished print was where artist didn’t touch.
John Ruskin (1819–1900), a leading English art critic and a prominent social thinker and philanthropist, gave Six Lectures on Wood and Metal Engraving.
Examining the image from the newspaper, only taking the shadow, made by cross-hatching (not by double, but triple line), he compared how much effort and labour are involved in drawing and woodcuts: There are about thirty of these columns, with thirty-five interstices each: approximately, 1,050—certainly not fewer—interstices to be deliberately cut clear, to get that two inches square of shadow. Now calculate—or think enough to feel the impossibility of calculating—the number of woodcuts used daily for our popular prints, and how many men are night and day cutting 1,050 square holes to the square inch, as the occupation of their manly life. And Mrs. Beecher Stowe and the North Americans fancy they have abolished slavery! Although slavery is used as exaggeration, the wasted labour was a major concern.
William James Linton (1812-1897), an English born American engraver, presented another diagram of wasted time. Four crossed lines, like in tic-tac-toe game, can be easily drawn by four moves, but it would take 32-38 lines for the engraver to deliver the design.
Linton championed the use of “white line” as well as the black, believing with Ruskin that the former was truer and more telling basics of aesthetic expression in the woodblock print.
Speed and time are always an issue for the production. Relief printing especially shows failed synchronization: time required to draw is never equal to time required to carve the same design.
The development of photomechanical printing processes, halftone technology in the late 19thcentury overtook woodcut for mass media. Around 1870s 100% of images printed in Harper magazine were in woodcut, whereas around 1890s only 1% of images were done in this technique.
Since 20thcentury wood engraving found its way to fine arts.
Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938) was a German Expressionist artist known for his prints. His woodcut of his friend’s portrait is considered one of the most important portraits in 20th century graphic art.
Christiane Baumgartner was born in 1967 in Leipzig (East Germany at that time), a city in which she has lived for most of her life. Following the long traditions in printmaking in Leipzig, she was introduced to woodcut early, even before going to art school. Afterwards, she went to study at the Royal College of Art in London, where she mainly concentrated on video. Her initial printmaking education fused into her new intense interest in video.
She developed the unique technique by carving raster lines to simply and clearly translate video stills into prints. The process goes like this: select a still, adjust it in photoshop, transfer it into wood using sharp kitchen knives (that’s the tradition), rub – handprint using a spoon. The artwork is too big to be printed under the press. Size of Transall, 2002 47x157in, on the first day – three lines.
Several themes dominate in her works:
- Stills of movement (airplanes)
- Landscapes, woods, forests
- Reflection on water surfaces
- Flames and burnouts
In video it takes a second of movement, for printing it takes months of carving. Fast and slow: speed-related images are slowed down by the manual technique. While Ruskin’s observations were pointing at the lost time, Baumgartner is cultivating this alien state. She is willingly working on woodcuts in the digital age. Wood is too slow/ video is too fast – in both cases these show nonhuman ways of timescale. Is she out of time in a contemporary life?
No surprise in her choice of stills: propelled blades of the airplane reference her cutting tools. Slow frequency of her won knife transport, translate, transfer the meaning as the Transall, a military transport aircraft.
Figures of periodicity, interference patterns demand the attention from a distance.
The artist is interested in images that fail to become register, like the colour spot on the retina that’s left after you look at the sun, the saturated sun during sunset, the same explosive effect for bombing, translating aggression and violence. And here the importance should be attributed to the sun. Invisible labour breaks: white area occupies the print. Recuperation of lost time and slowness becomes evident in the artwork.
Lecture 7: Interference
You can watch the talk given as Charles C. Eldredge Prize Lecture.
In July 1969 Robert Rauschenberg had been one of a small group invited to experience the launch of Apollo 11 at the Kennedy space centre. The lithographs, collectively title ‘stoned moon’, meditate on the impact and implications on the lunar mission. Rauschenberg’s image 'Local Means' makes an explicit connection between a water bird and the rocket: a slender white creature designed to break the bounds of the earth.
The peculiar fusion of massive means and weightless aims in the print;
Mass and flights; weight and freedom;
The title ‘Stoned moon’ comes from the printing process used to create it was stone lithography. The prints were pulled from the enormous limestone matrices, several inches thick and weighing collectively hundreds if not thousands of pounds. To develop this epic meditation in other words on technology and futurity, Rauschenberg chose the most massive and primordial means available to convey humanity breaking free of its traditional dimensions into weightless space. Rauschenberg chose to the weightiest possible manner of making a two-dimensional image.
Photographic images on the lithographs are printable and transferable because they have been converted into halftones.
Stochastic (aquatint) - natural/random procedure (air currents determine where it is dusted);
Rational (halftone) – mechanically generated from a perforated grating that sets the image into a perfectly regular grid.
In the area where the two halftones overlap on the print, the regularity of the grid creates a palpable Moiré effect that essentially repeats the underlying halftone at a much higher magnification. There are ways of suppressing this kind of moiré effect in layered media, and printmakers usually do everything they can to avoid the eruption of moiré from the overlap of the screened images, wanted Moiré to become a part of his print.
What is moiré?
Moiré emerges from the superimposition and slight miss-registration of two or more regular patterns. A classic moiré pattern is composed of two sets of parallel lines that are at a slight angle. Moiré patterns can also develop out of grid, dot arrays, curved lines and innumerable other arrangements.
The key quality of a moiré pattern is that is emerges in a nonlinear way from its component structures.
Depending on the mutual angles, frequencies and periodicities of the two elements, moiré can crop up in a lot of different places: between two picket fences, two layers of woven fabric, two window screens, in any two gridded matrices in print or other media. So, two layers of a silkscreen, a halftone on a silk screen, a halftone on a TV, camera.
In the digital photography the word moiré emerges from the history of textiles.
The moiré pattern might be seen to result from a kind of self-printing, self-marking or self-making. It is an auto-poetic image, it seems miraculously excessive in its squirreling stochastic beauty to the mechanical regularity the fabrics original structure.
The moiré image can be seen as one of a family of an auto-poetic images. Images not made by human hands, that have such a deep connection to the history and philosophy of the print.
The classic example is the Sudarium or Veronica’s veil, the imprint of Christ’s face legendary left on the veil of Veronica. Like the Veronica, the Moiré image is a miraculous image in cloth made without human hands. Moiré brings the printing textiles and non-human image production together. Every print is in the last analysis a result of non-human image making.
Printing happens between interaction between pressure, matrix, ink and support without the immediate presence of the human artist, who has arranged the components but then steps out of the way for the press to bring them together.
Single spiralling engraved line
Three-dimensional space has to be translated to binary language first.
Binary Printary Surface
Moiré is also obliquely related to print techniques that feature naturally rather than miraculously derived patterns. Example: woodcut prints preserve along with the carved image the swirling grain pattern along the faces of the inked woodblocks.
graphic pulsation derived directly from the structure of its matrix.
The syntax derived from the structure of the grain competes with the syntax of the carving itself. This is technically not moiré pattern, but wood grain is the periodic structure, and the resemblance has been long noted.
Wood ring artefacts
Moiré emerges independently from the interference of two periodic structures, it can be cultivated, or one might say, invited to appear by human artists. The basic syntax of cross hatching creates ranks of parallel lines that intersect in ways that sometimes spark moiré patterns.
Dynamic surface pattern shows the supreme skill of the engraver; engraver controls the pattern.
moiré patterns here are repeated in declamatory fashion, giving the surface quite different texture.
Positive – makes the print interesting;
Negative – effect makes to focus more on lines than on image.
Moire is related to decadence luxury and distraction, even forgetfulness, and is understood as contaminating the proper focus on reproduction and subject matter. The relationship between this disorder in pictorial clarity and the interference of a textile logic is also made clear.
The 19thand 20thcentury saw the rise of radically new printing technologies that allowed to be coded and transferred mechanically. -> halftone
Halftone. To make a halftone an original artwork is photographed though a fine-mesh grading that causes the continuous tone of the original work to be broken apart into dots, as the light is refocused through each tiny aperture. In essence it automatically breaks tonal areas into bivalent units of black and white that can be printed using all of the major print techniques.
Screenprinting represents ultimate rationalization of the quirkier old manual techniques.
Paradox of the moiré: it is precisely because of the unrelenting rationality and technicity of these processing systems that moiré is produced by them.
Moiré transforms images into periodic structures. Halftone does the same.
moiré is everywhere in the 20thcentury. Screenprinting manuals and technical discussions are especially focused on how to avoid moiré patterns. Irrational, unpredictable, often appears when the actual print is done. It has to be minimised. For example, the halftone colour separations in the photographs. 4-colour CMYK printing involves breaking down the original image into four colour separated halftone matrices, then recombining them in the process of printing (layering four periodic structures). -> they are called rosettes, and can be reduced but not eliminated.
moiré is an example of power of assemblages
Where moiré could best fit in 1960s?
Naturally found in the realm of op art or its kitschy and trippy extensions in psychedelic movement.
This show defined op art and put it on the map.
this work features the blurry colours interspersed with the general electric logo. As the artist explained, the title is the term for that coloured appling that appears in the viewfinder when you look through the camera lens into the sun. it also applies beautifully to the shimmering pattern of the colours as the halftone screens interfere with each other generating rosettes that Rosenquist has invited to erupt throughout the image. These circles of confusion suggest other confusions, besetting Americans in the Vietnam War era. Particularly the increasing pernicious overlapping of the consumer and military sectors. Famously GE was a defence contractor as well as a maker of light bulbs in 1963-64. It reported the highest profits from munitions of any US company.
moiré is used to evoke a new threat of the military-industrial complex and emergent social political economic forum that was looming up from the combination of the consumer and military syntaxes. Reveals hidden aggregations and alliances of power.
These artists opened up moiré as a critical tool for the contemporary media landscape. One of the commonalities in the images, moiré patterns operated a large scale across the surface of the work. They produce a kind of critical magnification. And this property of moiré had only recently been systematically investigated and was just beginning to emerge in the popular scientific literature.
Gerald Oster and Yasunori Nishijima, Moiré patterns, Scientific American, 1963
Summarized the history of moiré, including its operations, and explored its various instrumental scientific past possibilities. These patterns are seen as powerful devices that can project the effects of tiny cracks, or strains, or deformations, imperfections, into scales that are orders of magnitude larger than the primary phenomenon. The smaller misalignment between two patterns, the greater is magnification.
One of the examples is given the printing of halftones.
Rauschenberg’s experiments with moiré were especially rich and multivalent.
In 1969, Rauschenberg worked at the legendary print studio Universal Limited Art Editions (ULAE) in Long Island, on a series of three large photo lithographs. Photographs translated into halftones and enlarged onto acetate sheets. Then these were cut up and arranged what was essentially a kind of transparent collage of halftone acetates on top of the lithographic stone. The stone was then exposed and printed in the normal lithographic fashion. moiré pattern developed where the acetate sheets overlapped. Rauschenberg was struck by the watery effect of the moiré, and he gave titles to his prints accordingly: tides, drifts, gulf.
A few months later, he began to work on the stones moon series in Los Angeles, in Gemini. Were done in the same manner, just the size of the stones was the main difference.
Moiré effect is not always announced conspicuously. It creates a sort of subtle effect on the print.
In 1970 Rauschenberg went to Malibu with the intention, as he said, of doing a large peaceful watercolour. Exhausted by information overload and bad news in the papers, he planned an escape of current affairs. Instead, he did a project that managed through the moiré effect to be both an intensive engagement with very difficult current affairs and also oddly watercolour like a set of collages from articles and advertisements from newspapers from January and February in 1970. Title ‘currents’ refers to both news and watery flow.
Printed from three halftone screens: white, black and gloss black. He courts moiré effect by rotating slightly off register one of the halftone pattern, so the entire surface of each of these prints are totally overtaken by moiré.
Moiré: A late twentieth-century prospectus
1. The Persistence of Textiles
2. The Printedness of Photography
3. The Rise of Emergent Surfaces
1. The Persistence of Textiles
Rauschenberg’s photo lithographs, like his silkscreen paintings are normally interpreted as part of a transition in his work from the kind of funky collage materiality of his combine paintings and into a field of media operations that more closely resembled the smooth scanning surface of the photographs or the television screen.
By art critics/art historians, the emphasis is put on the seamlessness of the image combination and its fundamental link to the technology pf photography.
But in the works, where Rauschenberg invites moiré patterns to appear, we see that the sort of textile logic of the combine paintings is still fully operational.
The textile origins of the word seem and seamless. (1) It is hardly seamless: the moiré pattern evokes the kind of delamination of the layers of media, that it demonstrates. It talks about the sort of separation, mis-registration of information, rather than its perfect integration. (2) the decorative vacations of these moiré patterns resemble nothing as the polka dotted fabrics that Rauschenberg so frequently used as collage material in his combines.
His mother was a seamstress. He would have known from this childhood that moiré effect is easily generated by layering translucent fabrics. Moiré actually entered his work early, if subtly in the combine works.
Rauschenberg demonstrates that the logics of print and the logics of the textile converge. The implications of this are legion.
The matrix is the syntax: it doesn’t simply wait to receive the syntax.
2. The Printedness of Photography
Rauschenberg’s seemingly photographic work is better understood in the language of textiles. By the same token, the study of his moiré also demonstrates that his so-called photographs are in the last analysis prints. It is said that in 20thcentury newspapers, magazines, poster are photographs, but they are prints: ink on paper made on printing presses. Once they may have been photographs, but they have been translated into a halftone raster and transformed into chemically or topographically printable surfaces and then printed. Rauschenberg of all artists knew this. The solvent transfer process that put him on the map of 20th century art opening an entirely new vocabulary of the image could only have emerge, because he recognized his source pictures in magazines as prints.
In making the Dante drawings, Rauschenberg soaked images taken from Sports Illustrated, Time, Life, and other photo-illustrated magazines with lighter fluid, which functioned as a solvent, then pressed the clippings face down on a sheet of paper, rubbing their backs with the barrel of an empty ballpoint pen. The transferred images appeared in reverse, at the same scale as the mass-media originals, but with a fainter palette—for only some of the ink was dislodged in this second-generation printing—and in broken striations resulting from the rubbing.
3. The Rise of Emergent Surfaces
Moiré patterns create the strange form of surface spatiality. Rauschenberg and other artists experimenting with moiré are doing so in an environment when various different models and philosophies of the picture plane are being hotly debated. The renaissance windowpane picture plane, Greenberg’s modernist picture plane, and Leo Steinberg’s flatbed picture plane, which was enormously productive model developed out of Rauschenberg’s work.
But the surface best by moiré does not quite fit with any of these models. (1) the autocatalytic qualities of the moiré make it a kind of live or responsive or gentle surface that’s not really captures in these existing models. Rauschenberg explored this in this first set of moiré heavy prints in 1969.
Tides, drift and golf all feature iconographies of bodies and flows. There is concern here for capturing or calibrating wetness from dry media, when that’s mirrored in the materiality of the process itself. Moiré belongs to the operations in the surface of the print itself. This is a surface that is not window like, or floor like, but perhaps skin like. This rippling and pulsing surface also evokes a new kind of space. Although it is made by pressing layers of mediated information into contact, it does not read as flat. But nor is it the old Renaissance picture plane, opening out to the familiar notions of scale or proximity or atmosphere.
It is not an accident that Rauschenberg confronted moiré so intensively in the context of the moon land, the moon launch lithographs. Processing Apollo 11 in stone lithography seems ludicrous. But both the launch and the lithographs involve translations of immense mass into uncharted forms of spatial experience. With the moiré that mediates here between the heavy stone and this oddly warped outer space elsewhere, Rauschenberg serves to link the Apollo launch to the plight of the image in a world of ever more rapidly replicated and interfering pictorial media. The moiré suggests that images too are beginning to pull away from their normal gravitational constrains, that they are being launched. Where are they going? What will be the space built around them and by them look like? Like the space between the Earth and the moon, it is still a material space, but it can’t be known with the familiar material coordinates. Also, considering the fact that moiré is scientifically described with terms like frequency, beat, amplitude, interference and periodicity, it is important to note that moiré patterns also evoke radio and sound media with which Rauschenberg was also very much involved, as was the Apollo launch as well.
Rauschenberg seems to have turned to moiré to bring together multiple material and cognitive resources from textiles to stones to radio to try to evoke this strange and uncertain emergent space of mass media. But the fundamental rubric here, the medium that ties together all the others, all the weaves and screens and frequencies, is print.
Lecture 8: The Computational Image
Printmaking creates habits that can be transferred to other media, and other media operate.
Different kind of attack: the circuit board that is killing the print is the print itself.
Paul Eisler (1907 – 1992) is the father of the printed circuit board (1936).
- Austrian by nationality
- Jewish by religion
Therefore, after the completion of his education in the field of engineering, he was not allowed to start his work as an engineer there in Austria, and left Vienna for London. By the time he went to London, he was an inventor with two patents: one for a graphical sound recording and one for a TV with vertical resolution lines, and an idea of printed circuits. He set up meetings, idea was intriguing and approved, but he was told that “the manual wiring work was being done by "girls" and "girls are cheaper and more flexible."
- 1942 - First radio with printed circuit
- Printing was a recognized method of reproduction.
- Circuits could be minimized, automatically reproduced.
- The idea came from the long hours at the British Museum: the wisdom of ultimately redemption
To print circuit boards
1. Copper foil (conductive material) electroplated or laminated to a nonconductive insulating base;
2. Circuit pattern is screen-printed with acid-resistant ink onto copper foil layer;
3. The board is then etched, which removes the copper surrounding the circuit pathways.
Screenprinting and etching are involved.
Eisler’s Printed Circuit:
1. Mobilization/ Weaponization of Print
2. Surface dimensionality
1. Mobilization/ Weaponization of Print
Idea should help the war: contribute to the direct war production, otherwise will be out of interest.
Print should be guns. Print can do things. It can make things happen. It is not only illustration. From passive to active element.
The first printed circuits during WWII - detonator
By 1948, it tended to appear everywhere in America.
2. Surface dimensionality
From body elements to surface elements
Printed circuits make three-dimensional objects to two-dimensional.
Aesthetics of spacing out: occupy the entire plane without crossing, nothing hidden, awkward.
Microminiaturization -> goes to black box mystification
Clarity and visibility – open to eye;
Circuit needs two prints, superimposed layer like a book.
Three-dimensional circuit – sculpture manner, topological manipulation of surfaces
- 1962 – electromagnetic coil, folded coil
Heating film – another invention by Eisler.
He imagined that those circuits could inhabit a human body – electro-limb
Flat surfaces enter three-dimensional world.
Highly adaptable: universal printing adaptability moved to technology/electronics. Standardized printing method is used for multiple specialised applications. Printing becomes common manufactory language. This is enrichment and challenge to printing history.
Print can be seen as a coded matrix that gives instructions to the press. The delegation of the process is the same.
Matrices through binary practices; works impose active - passive parts, conductive – non-conductive, inked- non-inked.
Printmaking and making techniques: produce things in multiples
Augsburg was a centre for production of weapons.
Daniel Hopfer made designs for armour decorations
Printing as military technology
Printing of scientific elements
Imitation of Islamic wirework; not circuit, but circuit kind of operation
Eduardo Paolozzi (1924 – 2005)has often been labelled the ‘Godfather of Pop Art’.This Scottish artist is like Eisler in many ways. Immigrant, responding directly to WWII, deeply passionate about science, technology, committed to print.
First, printed images brought together; flesh and machinery layering; origins of pop art; first objects of pop art;
Paolozzi was working out of austerity in post war Britain; looking longingly at the prints coming from the States, analysing, connecting how everything works. Best known as a sculptor.
Richard Hamilton – another pop artist
Pressing random objects into plaster, then producing bronze sculptures /like collage, gives vision of a man after the war. Identity does not arise from the inside, but from outside surface
First masterpiece of screenprinting art.
Large collages, then printer would arrange to printable matter.
Every impression has different colour -> different versions -> programmatic options
Skyscraper and circuits.
Paolozzi was fascinated about science. He visited possible science centres in the US in 1960s, seeking and finding his images.
More possible that Paolozzi had no direct knowledge about Eisler.
Can be seen in Paolozzi’s works:
Resolute flatness, no deep space, only depth comes from the metallic micro-thin layering: circuit stacked onto each other.
Common origin in painting: flatness, space, three dimensional objects to two-dimensional surface
Heats the space as a circuit builder
Paolozzi uses prints to unification. Bringing together Mondrian paintings, Mickey Mouse, circuits he unifies all kind of printed images.
Critic said: connecting rather than connectivity.
Printed form of universality
Unify all printed images
Find universal grammar of contemporary art
To act, not only to reflect
Robert Rauschenberg acted in a gap. In fusion of printing design and military. Exploring the way printing was connected to military. To elaborate or simplify.
If it does good, it can also do evil.
In the 21stcentury, this technological world, Computer Epoch, we are still running on prints.