– a different way to make unique art
Unlike the modern methods of digital printing, manual printmaking is an artisan process and a technical exercise requiring creativity and dexterity alongside considerable skill and labour.
One of the oldest printmaking processes is screenprinting, also known as serigraphy or silkscreen printing. Screenprinting has its roots the distant past, (900AD to be precise) but has always moved and adapted with the times. Exploding into the mainstream with the advent of pop art it is now one of the preferred mediums for some of the biggest names in contemporary art.
In simple terms, screenprinting involves the cutting of an image into a sheet of paper or film to create a stencil. This is placed into a frame with a fine mesh - originally silk - stretched across it. This ‘screen’ is placed over the surface of the composition and ink is pushed through the stencil from above to leave an imprint in the cut-out areas. For each colour, a separate screen is used, so painstaking accuracy is required and there may be slight differences between screenprints. This variation reinforces their status as unique artworks.
Championed by household names such as Andy Warhol, who were drawn to its commercial associations, screenprinting was a hugely important technique for many of the Pop generation including Robert Indiana, Roy Lichtenstein and Jasper Johns, who would appropriate commercial imagery in tandem with the technique. The pop artists had a lot to say, and the boldness and immediacy of the artwork made it the perfect way to communicate a visual message with colour and clarity.
The London Police
By the late 1970s, artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat were producing graffiti on the walls of New York, which was soon labelled as Street, Urban, or Guerrilla art; its subversive nature tapped into the zeitgeist attracting many talented artists to the biggest open gallery in the world – the street. As some of these controversial figures gained traction in the mainstream, art dealers began to recognise the commercial potential of their work, and they crossed over into galleries and began producing their ‘street art’ in studios. Street art is now one of the most dynamic and popular genres in contemporary art, with artists such as The London Police using screenprinting techniques which were a natural progression from the spray cans and stencils of the street.
In 2022, screenprinting has become one of the most sophisticated and elegant ways to create bold and vibrant images. In addition to stencils, a photographic image can be reproduced on the screen using light-sensitive gelatins to produce more complex designs, and global figures such as Mr. Brainwash have pushed the boundaries of the medium, producing 16 colour screenprints which have an almost radiant clarity.