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The Art Of Print Making

When giving tours at the Saint Louis Art Museum, people often ask about prints and want to know if they are as important as paintings and I explain that they are another medium of the visual arts. People often are confused and think that prints are just copies of paintings and I have to clarify the issue and explain what a print actually is and that luminaries such as Rembrandt, Max Beckmann, Helen Frankenthaller, and Jasper Johns were painters as well as printmakers.

To make a print, an artist creates an image on a secondary surface--usually a plate, block, stone or stencil--called a matrix. The matrix is inked, transferred to the support(usually paper) and hand-printed, often on a hand-cranked press. The process is repeated to make multiple examples or impressions.

To make prints, artists must dedicate a similar amount of time and technical expertise to the endeavor as they would for drawing, painting, or sculpture. In the print studio, they create distinctive works with the choice of a wide range of techniques. Whatever the process or combination of processes, the artist's individual style and signature touch are expressed in multiple impressions. For this reason, original prints are relatively affordable.

The Saint Louis Art Museum has wonderful examples of prints from throughout the ages and up to the present and Elizabeth Wyckoff, curator of prints and drawings and photographs at the institution, invites the public to come to see them in the newly configured spaces at the recently renovated museum which not only highlights the old master printers, but prints by many post-war American and German artists such as Roy Lichtenstein, Louis Bourgeois, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhardt Richter. She also invites the public to make an appointment in the beautiful print, drawing, and photography study room to view works currently not on display.

Our own Maryanne Ellison Simmons was named master-printer at Washington University's Island Press, the university's collaborative printmaking workshop and went on to found Wildwood Press, now located at The City Museum. Wildwood Press' early projects resulted from relationships and large-scale printmaking processes that were initially cultivated at Island Press. As the reputation of Simmons and Wildwood Press grew, so did the range of artists that worked with her. Artists from all over the world have come to work with Wildwood Press.

Yellow Bear Projects is another of St. Louis's unique printing studios. Founded by artists Gina Alvarez and Robert Goetz. The studio located at 5201 Pernod, allows people to rent the printing press or time at the studio and or to take classes and workshops or view current exhibitions.

And Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri - St. Louis is currently featuring Cape Dorset Prints,  The King Gates Studios, an exhibition of Native American prints from an artists group in Cape Dorset, Canada.

Now I could really add confusion to the entire understanding of prints by discussing the different printmaking techniques such as etching, engraving, woodcuts, lithographs, etc. and which techniques artists such a Dali, Goya, Durer and Picasso used or I could attempt to describe the really confusing situation of the different "states" of prints, but I won't.

Let's just say that St. Louis affords one many opportunities to make and or enjoy viewing the many wonderful prints available at our universities, galleries and museums.

Nancy Kranzberg has been involved in the arts community for some thirty years on numerous arts related boards.

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