the unPainting

August 18 – November 1, 2015

Murray & Ledger Galleries

The western tradition of printmaking began as paper became widely available around 1400 CE. The art form had been prevalent in the East for centuries, but its introduction to Europe bolstered its identity as a serious but accessible medium. In many ways, printmaking was even considered an acceptable alternative to painting. Printmaking allowed multiple images to be produced quickly and economically, which raised its status among artists and collectors alike.

Mekons, Oh, Noe, Jo, 1994, Etching, Polk Museum of Art Permanent Collection 2003.5.4, Gift of the Mekons

The most influential of the early European printmakers was Johannes Gutenberg, who in the mid-15th century invented moveable type. Gutenberg’s innovation standardized the production of printers’ plates. Artists soon adopted Gutenberg’s process and adapted it to create highly complex visual compositions, or impressions.  The first techniques of fine art printmaking to become popular in the west were from the intaglio family, including woodcuts, engravings and drypoint printing. Renaissance masters like Albrecht Dürer, Hans Holbein and Annibale Carracci, who were all also celebrated painters, were considered some of the most ardent and proficient intaglio printmakers. Their experimentation further modernized Gutenberg’s initial work and distinguished fine art printmaking from the popular moveable type.

As artists continued to experiment with printmaking, new processes were discovered. Lithography, screen printing and monotypes eventually led to the more modern digital print. The common denominator of these varied printing techniques is the use of ink, not paint, to produce an impression. Most of the celebrated printmakers throughout art history were also, and in many cases foremost, painters. Printmaking was an opportunity for these painters to produce a series of works that were less intensive to create and more affordable to a wider range of collectors. Printmaking continues to grant painters the freedom to create unique and beautiful works of art without the limits and time consuming methods of painting.

This exhibition of works from the Polk Museum of Art permanent collection celebrates the modern print as the unpainting, or that distant cousin to traditional painting that has found its own respective voice in the discourse of art making and art collecting.