By Emma Hill
Print is a medium of mass communication. Great artists have used its technologies to express ideas, produce images and democratise the ownership of art.
Multiple images, authored by their maker, allow artworks to circulate freely within the wider culture. Print processes enable the rapid spread of information whilst providing an enormous range of ways in which images can be made. Printmaking expresses a fundamental engagement between art and technology and prints have often been the means by which an artist’s work has become known, passed on and preserved for future generations.
The digital age has vastly expanded the proliferation of visual information and human beings are more connected than we have ever been through the language of the visual image. Printmaking in the contemporary era is a multifaceted art. Traditional processes overlap with new technologies and photographers and artists continue to develop important work in the medium of print.
Creativity encourages innovation and artists have been at the forefront of testing print technologies for their expressive potential. Japanese aesthetics were revealed to the West through the spread of highly sophisticated wood block prints. Rembrandt approached etching as a new form of image-making, becoming internationally known in his lifetime through the dispersal of his prints. Goya used print with unparalleled spontaneity to record his contemporary society, producing one of history’s most haunting visual accounts of the realities of war. In 1839, when the invention of photography was formally announced, it introduced a technology that would change the world. While debates raged about whether it should be regarded as an art or a science, photographers were already experimenting with the new medium’s aesthetic potential. Warhol utilised photography and the mechanised operations of commercial silkscreen to make what are now regarded as amongst the most iconic images of the latter part of the 20th century.
Printmaking can produce an image relatively quickly, encouraging artists to be direct and experimental in their graphic works. In the contemporary era digital processes align with Duchamp’s stated aim of reducing ‘the aesthetic consideration to the choice of the mind, rather than the ability or cleverness of the hand.’. Digital printing allows for an almost seamless relationship between the initiation, production and circulation of an image, produced as a tangible, portable work of art work that communicates the artist’s ideas.
Contemporary artists have been quick to see the potential of digital printing as a form of artistic process, rather than as simply a means of reproduction. Some use the computer as a tool to assemble and manipulate visual information into new kinds of images, while others enjoy the directness of the archival print to forcefully distill the essence of their thoughts.
Untold numbers of visual images exist now held in the virtual worlds of mobile phones and clouds and while modern technology takes art into new dimensions such as the computer-held NFT, the importance of physical artworks that occupy and effect the spaces they inhabit, remains undiminished.
Emma Hill is the founding Director of the Eagle Gallery, London and its associated publishing imprint EMH Arts. She started working in commercial galleries in 1984 at the Curwen Gallery, London, where her interest in printmaking began through the gallery’s link to the famous Curwen Studio, which produced lithographic print editions by artists including Elisabeth Frink, Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore.
Over the last thirty years she has represented many artists who use printmaking as an integral element of their practice. Works she has exhibited or published embrace a wide approach to printmaking and span hand-cut woodcuts by Tom Hammick, atelier-produced etchings by Basil Beattie RA, letterpress text prints by installation artist Terry Smith and digital editions by conceptual artist Carolyn Thompson, to name but a few.
Her EMH Arts imprint was founded to encourage collaborations between contemporary artists and writers and she has published over 25 artist’s books using many different kinds of print mediums. EMH Arts publications have been acquired by major museums through-out the world including British Library, UK; Gutenberg Museum, Germany; New York Public Library, USA; TATE, UK and Yale Center for British Art, USA.
In addition to mounting exhibitions at the Eagle Gallery she has curated a number of public exhibitions, most recently ‘Ken Kiff: The Sequence’, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Art (2018) and ‘Stephen Chambers RA: The Court of Redonda’, Venice Biennale (2017). She writes about printmaking for a number of publications including Print Quarterly and the RA Magazine.