Article by James Burr
From the magazine Printmaking Today
Between Narbonne and Perpignan in the small picturesque village of Roquefort des Corbières, comfortably encircled by its vineyards can be found one of the most professional and sophisticated lithographic workshops in France. In this unlikely rural retreat, the workshop of Luc and Perlette Valdelièvre-Attlan houses one of the two largest lithographic presses in the world still printing on traditional limestone.
Luc originally studied psychology in paris, and to pay his way worked in the evenings as an assistant in a lithographic workshop. Gradually printing became a more serious interest than psychology, and as the envolvement deepened he apprenticed himself to the workshops of Cassé, Détruit, Bellini and Clot Bramsen et Georges, where he learned by practice the technical complexities of printing. With the confidence of his newly acquired technical expertise he set up his own workshop in the Ricard offices by the Gare de l'Est with a hand press, which flourished because of the large number of artists working in the capital who needed lithographic facilities. The printing processes are not taought to any great extent in French art schools and they lack equipment. In 1974, with Perlette Attlan, he opened « Pousse Caillou » in the rue de Lappe which was so successful that by 1977 more space became essential, prompting them to look outside Paris and to start a new life in the quiet village of Roquefort. Although there was no tradition of lithography, there were local artists of various nationalities working in the area providing a creative environment.
In Paris in 1988 Luc found three enormous Marinoni cylinder presses dating form the turn of the century, with a bed size of 120 x 160 cm. The owner was using one for printing cinema posters, but with a Luddite mentality wanted to break the others up for scrap so that he would have no competition. Luc persuaded him, much against his willto sell one on the assurance that he could not be a rival in the south of France. This gigantic press from the past was restored and rebuilt by Luc and Perlette and installed in their studio, providing a unique opportunity for artists wishing to work on a big scale, and rescuing a rare piece of machinery. Within 4 years, 80 large editions had been printed on it, justifying the risk and expense entailed. Sadly, the third press was destroyed. The first few years were difficult, as artists who wish to make lithographic prints often prefer to go to Paris with all the attractions of a lively metropolis and international art center. Gradually however, the studio attracted artists from America, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands and of course France, but none from England, although both Luc and Perlette speak excellent English.
Luc is a printer of artistic integrity and will not undertake routine commercial work. Copying visual material lithographically is of no interest to him. He likes to work imaginatively with artists, having an instinct for understanding the creative mind ; using his extensive technical expertise, he helps them solve their visual problems through the printed image. Hence artists who wish to work with him are selected with care. Most artists who come are acquainted with the lithographic process. For those unfamiliar with the techniques, he will act as an instructor and sympathetic guide. He is however primarily a printer rather than a teacher, but he does aim to extend artistic experience by introducing artists to the potential inherent in lithographic printing, especially by exploring the qualities and character of working on stone. Greater subtleties and wider effects can be achieved by using washes and scratching into the surface and also an enhanced delicacy and accuracy of printing.
The cost is assessed by the number of stones used, format and edition size : for example, a stone 50 x 65 cm with an edition of 50, would coest 1500 francs (per colour) with an additional charge for the paper.
Because of their greater surface response, most of the work in the studio is on massive and unwieldy stones, for which Luc has invented a regrinding machine, avoiding tiresome and timeconsuming hysical work. Traditional stones are increasingly difficult to find, although when a stone becomes too thin to use from constant regrinding , two can be fused together. In 1987 Luc opened up the old Euzes quarry at Gorniès, North of Montpellier, with the help of a local farmer and the mayor of the commune. Initally finding stones that had deteriorated doe to the exposure to the frost, they eventually quarried 20 beautiful stones measuring up to 120 x 160 cm. After polishing in the Pousse Caillou workshop, their particularly hard surface made them ideal for detailed printing. Modern aluminium plates are used only for printing large flat areas of colour for which they are best suited.
The studio is equipped with two hand direct-pressure presses which are more convenient for pulling only a few proofs, also better for printing very delicate washes of colour. The three electrically driven presses are more cumbersome to set up, but print a much greater rate, making them more practical for large editions. Sixty is the average number taken, with the printer keeping one proof. The electric cylinder presses can print both wood and linocuts or indeed any hard flat surface with perfect textural quality, and it is easy to comine line, wood and lithography in one print. There are excellent facilities for photolitho, with a vacuum bed and a darkroom. It is a great surprise to find above the print workshop a large, simply designed gallery with high ceiling and good natural light, where graphics printed in the studio are on view for dealers, collectors and museum curators who come to Roquefort because of its reputation for high-quality printing. For artists who have worked in the studio and whom they wish to support, Luc and Perlette will arrange to publish half the edition, and will exhibit the prints in the gallery, while Perlett will also promote sales elsewhere.
For visiting artists there is a flat available with space for a family of four at 300 francs a week, although Luc can always find further accomodation in the village. Two beaches are only five miles away and the Spanish border about an hour. The medieval city of Carcassonne is an hour's drive on the motorway in the Cathar country, with ruined castles in the surrounding mountains and the rewarding sight of the Corbières vineyards.
France is unrivalled for the printmaking of its artists and the high standards of its printing studios. Eight are in Paris, while in the provinces there is one at Lyon, and one at Avignon, but Roquefort is unique for its intimacy and profesionalism, its situation, its gallery and undoubtedly the size of its press.