Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Importance of Ateliers

Karl Schrag, Evening Fragrance of Gardens, 1963.
Two color etching and aquatint,  Gift of the artist. 
Syracuse University Art Collection, 1970.711
We are almost half-way through the exhibition of Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions, and we have had many questions about the printmaking process and who creates the prints. It's a great question because who actually makes the print varies with each artist. Ateliers are often the "think tanks" where things happen for artists whose first medium is not printmaking.

Hand-pulled prints may be created in several ways--among the earliest methods is the wood block print, which is a wood block that has the background carved away in order to have the design stand out. Simply put, the block looks something like a rubber stamp. To create the print, a brayer with ink is rolled over the top of the block. Dampened paper is then placed on the block and the design is impressed on the paper through the press. If there is more than one color, then there will be additional blocks.

Albrecht Dürer fostered the engraving and etching process and the technique remains pretty much the same as it was in the 16th century. This process is much more complex-- a design is scratched into a copper plate and parts of the plate are soaked in an acid bath in order to make the line deeper. This deepened line holds more ink. The more lines there are and the longer the plate sits in the acid, the darker the lines. This process allows a tone variance in the print. 

As science and technology evolved, so did other printmaking processes such as lithography and silkscreen. While there is not room to discuss the details of these processes, the point to be made is that it often "takes a village," to borrow a phrase. The artist who comes up with the concept, the artist who translates the painting or other into a working drawing, an engraver, a printer, and other members of the atelier who are involved in keeping the shop going. The engraver and printer are responsible for the final product's quality. Their expertise and experience enables the artist to translate his/her works into the printmaking medium.

There is so much more to discuss about this topic, but printmaking workshops are not a modern idea, as many artists from centuries past collaborated (or hired) artists to create the engraved plate based upon other artwork. Schrag was the director of the world-known Atelier 17 for a period of time; therefore,  it was his job to see that the artists' intentions were realized. Importantly,  Schrag created his own prints. No small effort. He was the artist, etcher, printer--all roles that require vision, technical expertise, and artistry.

The exhibition, Karl Schrag: Memories and Premonitions," remains on view through October 16 at The Mitchell Gallery at St. John's College.