Why Prints? Printmaking, like most art processes, is a laborious, painstaking, unforgiving, and obscure medium in which to work, only more obscure, unforgiving, and painstaking than the rest. And for what? Prints are generally less valuable, need strange archival storage solutions, and often become relegated to a small circle of artists, dealers, and rare book librarians. But a lonely few, including myself, still gravitate to printmaking; some because they need the technical distraction to do their work (like me), others because they like the strange distortions the printmaking processes give (me, too), and still others appreciate the democratic nature of the multiple, versus the single work of art, that is inherent in printmaking (power to the people!).
For the past few years, I have been working with offset lithography and letterpress printing for all of the above reasons. Why wait 75 years for the processes to become obsolete and “rediscovered” by some Columbus of the art world? Offset and letterpress printing are at the extreme end of this concept of prints, offering much larger editions, at speeds of thousands of sheets an hour, strange color possibilities and distortions, and the fact that the same process is used in most printed materials people handle everyday.
This familiarity of material to the public is important to my work, as is the social aspect of printing. Dealing with subjects in the public realm, be they public toilets to packaging materials, in a process that is still very much a part of everyday life, allows me to create prints that are accessible to a wider public, while questioning the public notion over what is a fine art print. As such, much of the literal subject matter and form of my recent work is already printed material: bag bottoms, printed cardboard, already printed photographs, manipulated “antique” postcards, etc. By bringing these discarded printed goods back into the fold, I hope to create printed objects that can transcend a few of the limitations and boundaries we have set up, even if for just a moment, and maybe cause a second look.
As a person heavily laden with nervous energy, I find it interesting to be attracted to such a controlled and delicate process. I am still amazed, watching pristine sheets of clean white paper come into the chaos of the studio, back and forth through a crazy machine at high speed, and end up in a nice, clean pile with ink, grease and fingerprints only where they should be (generally speaking). It is this chaotic balance, and the delicate intricacies of these printing processes, that keeps me working with prints. That, and the voice in my head which exclaims during every press run, “Wow, it works!”.
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©Dan Wood 2001.