Behind the face of the print, even before it is lifted away from surface of wood, metal or stone, or pulled from beneath a screen, a complex and multiphased process of production has been engaged – a process overssen by one or more people who are invested in its success.
The tradition of the « artist-printmaker » - the individual who orchestrates and controls the entire process of creating a print from initial concept and drawing through prodcution of the matrix and printing of each impression – remains attractive and viable, offering some dinsticnt advantages. On a pragmatic level, the solitary paradigm of the artist-printmaker offers a continuity of control, flexibility in time, experimentation and change – it makes virtue out of the necessity of sweat equity.
On a psychosocial level, the artist-printmaker enjoys a sense of mastery and self-sufficiency, and avoids the ambivalence and implicit hierarchy which attends any division of labor. The problematic duality of art vs technology also remains muted ; service to the image remains primary. Worrisome questions about the originality of a multiple are dispelled by the exclusivity of creative involvement.
For those who can acquire or gain access to the necessary space and equipment, thos of a temperament which embraces the time – and labor-intensive nature of printmaking, the rôle of the artist-printmaker is a highly satisfying one. Why then would one want to do it differently ?
There are equally compeeling reasons for the artist making prints to seek the various kinds of support which a collaborative model provides. Such support not only completes the spectrum of skills and expertise necessary to produce a print, but may also offer the distinctive benefits of collaboration itself, where not only other hands, but other eyes and minds are engaged in serving an artist's vision, and new dimensions of print tachnology are revealed.
In the course of the twentieth century renascence of fine art printmaking in the United States, it could be said that the first wave sustained the mystique of the artist-printmaker often in an academic setting – one thinks, for example, of the influence of Hayter, Lasansky and Peterdi. It is a model which still dominates formal postsecondary training in printmaking.
A second wave, closer to the marketplace than to academe, gave rise to a collaborative model, with the shops of tamarind, Gemini G.E.L., Universal Limited Art Editions, Tyler Graphics, Crown Point Press and their subsequent progeny, spin-offs and emulators creating a new genealogy of print production. What seems new may often prove to have deep roots, and the growth of the collaborative model in the custom shop in the U.S. Has also served to heighten appreciation of print traditions in both Europe and Japan.
Though most artists making prints in Hawaii are, by definition, artist-printmakers, several have sought the expanded ressources of the collaborative model. Their experiences suggest the variety of settings as well as divisions of labor and creative interaction which characterize these working relationships.
Helen Gilbert and Ken Bushnellreturn regularly to the Atelier Pousse Caillou in a small village in the south of France. Their collaboration with the master printer Luc Valdelièvre and his wife Perlette Attlan dates back twenty-some years, to a time when Valdelièvre was a young printer for another atlier in Paris – and one of the few printers who was comfortable working with a woman artist in the litho shop.
The current atelier, specializing in lithography and some relief printing and photo processes, has five presses which can accomodate a variety of images up to four by five feet. Gilbert, who prefers to work on stone rather than plates, will usually prepare maquettes or small models of the work she expects to produce during a stay at the studio. This gives the printer an idea of what she wants, but still allows her to change plans as the work develops.
On site, Gilbert will work on prepared stones and establishes ongoing supervision as the stones are etched and proofed and as colors are mixed and tested. A typical print may involve five sperate passes, with the color range augmented with rainbow rolls. Each visit of four to six weeks will produce three to four editions of twenty to thirty prints each (though some editions go up to fifty). Atelier Pousse Caillou maintains a gallery in conjunction with the production shop, and assists with the shipping of work back to artists and galleries.