Mini Exhibition (Main at Bruce Museum)
Black and White Since 1960
By Reba and Dave Williams
Two printing establishments, Universal Limited Arts Editions-ULAE-and Gemini (G.E.L.), are associated with the fine are print revival, which began around 1960. Leading artists- Jasper Johns, Larry Rivers, Roy Lichtenstein, Frank Stella, and Claes Oldenberg- made large color lithographs which these printers. The work of these post-Abstract Expressionist artists was better suited to prints than that of the Abstract Expressionists, who worked in thick oil paint on canvas to achieve a three dimensional effect, difficult to do in a print. A new art movement, compatible with prints, especially large color lithographs, inspired a new interest in prints.
Other print shops specializing in color lithography were soon formed. Some 75 years after printers in France has made the beautiful color posters and prints of Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries, America had the capability, at last, to make high quality fine art color lithographs.
Buyers were captivated by these big, highly decorative color prints. Many new collectors gravitated to prints, as large or larger than many oil paintings, and much less expensive. More and more artists made prints, more print dealerships were formed, and auction houses added contemporary prints to their sales. The print Revival was born, and persists. Color changed print collecting from a specialized, esoteric field of small scales black and white etchings and lithographs to a broadly popular activity embracing colorful work by well-regarded artists.
But most artists did not confine themselves to the demands of the marketplace. Many were also influenced by the history of prints, which when it began in the 15th century, was mainly a black ink on white paper tradition. Black and white prints, although less popular with the new collectors, were also a feature of the print revival. “Black and White Since 1960” explores this side of the print revival.
For some artists, black as a color is more meaningful than for others. For Robert Motherwell, black is both a color and a symbol. Many of the titles of his prints include the word black- Black Sea, Soot-Black Stone, Black Wall, etc. Even when the title does not contain the word “black,” is conveys blackness, as in Calligraphy 1965-1966.
Motherwell’s major project, a book of nineteen original lithographs illuminating Rafael Alberti’s poem El Negro Motherwell, with its mournful dirge like words and imagery (“Black lamanet endless mute black”) reflects with Motherwell’s “inexhaustible fascination with the mystery of black.” As Motherwell has explained, he has ” a passionate interest in juxtaposing black and white, being and non-being, life and death?”i
The tradition of collecting black and white prints is as old as that of making them. According to Florent Le Comte, writing in 1799, “this passion for prints, which is one of the hallmarks of the finest minds, could not be held in greater esteem.”ii The “passion” of which he spoke was for black and white prints. Print lovers from the 16th through the 19th centuries assembled massive collections- as many as 123,400 impressions in one- of black and white prints. In collecting black and white prints today, one becomes part of the history of print collecting.
i Gilmour, Pat. Ken Tyler- Master Printer and the American Print Renaissance. (New York: 1986), p. 107.
ii Robinson, William W. “This Passion for Prints” in Printmaking in the Age of Rembrandt, Clifford S. Ackley (Boston: 1981), p. xxvii.