Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Down to Basics: Printmaking

Carroll Cloar, "The Making of a Drawing"

Printmaking is one of the oldest forms of technology to help artists produce images, with some types dating back to the 9th century. There are four main categories of printmaking: relief (woodcuts), intaglio (etching), planographic (lithography) and stencil (screen printing).

The Georgia Museum of Art presents great examples of printmaking in two current exhibitions, "The Lithographs of Carroll Cloar" and "The Prints of Mary Wallace Kirk."

The former, on view in the Boone and George-Ann Knox Gallery II, features detailed lithographs depicting a surreal perspective on the stories of people and places from Cloar's childhood, biblical narratives and popular culture.

Lithographs are a type of printmaking developed in the in 18th century based on the fact that water and oil do not mix.

The original process involved drawing an image in oil, fat or wax on a limestone plate. The plate is then treated with acid and gum arabic, which etches the portions of the stone not covered by the image. These etched areas are then wetted. As the etched areas retain the water, oil-based ink is applied. The water on the etched portions of the plate repels the oil-based ink, leaving only the drawn image covered in ink, ready for printing.

Nowadays, printmakers take the same concept of oil and water not mixing, but with a slight upgrade to the technology. Typically, modern printmakers produce lithographs by using acrylic polymer paint to draw the image on a flexible aluminum plate.

The 31 prints featured in the exhibition beautifully show the range of how the medium can contribute to the tone and style of the subject matter.

Mary Wallace Kirk, "Cabin in Shade"

Printmaking is not limited to lithographs. On July 19, the museum opened the exhibition "The Prints of Mary Wallace Kirk" in the Martha Thompson Dinos and Dorothy Alexander Roush Galleries, featuring finely detailed renderings of the countryside of the 1930s and 1940s.

Although etching as a means to decorate metal items dates back to the Middle Ages, the technology was applied to printmaking in the 15th century.

This method of printmaking involves covering a metal plate in an acid-resistant, waxy ground. The artist then takes a pointed etching needle and draws on the metal, scraping off the ground, to form the design in the now exposed metal. The printmaker then dips the metal plate into a bath of acid called an "etchant" that eats away the exposed metal, leaving deep lines. The acid and ground are then cleaned off the plate, and the artist applies ink. As the artist wipes away the ink from the plate, the deep, etched lines retain the ink and are now ready to translate the image.

Kirk studied etching at the Art Students League in New York with Harry Sternberg and ultimately produced around 80 etchings during her career.

"The Lithographs of Carroll Cloar" is on view until Aug. 10, and "The Prints of Mary Wallace Kirk" is on view until Oct. 12.

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