It's a bizarrely and surprisingly complex question. The history of print according to the print historian Ivan’s is a history of removing muddy water from a deep ditch. In his appraisal offset lithography leaves the paper in a pristine state and is that which printers have always sought. It is the technology that all printing strives toward.
I personally find lithography even in the hands of a master printer who prints on stone by hand to be nothing better than a sterile reproductive method. It’s lack of impression a form of metaphorical denial of the nature of being. Offset lithography is like the edifices of religion, powerful, impressive but lacking soul and substance.
I’m biased however; as a younger man I saw a lithograph by Leonora Fini which was so striking in its orange hues that I decided than and there it could never be surpassed. I spent some years as a lithography technician and nothing managed to convince me that my view was flawed. From Tamarind to Tom Phillips & Jim Dine, the effect is always a posterised visual lumonosity. Lithography makes great gallery art but it is not intimate and it is not texturally rich.
I have patrons, not as many as I need but I’ve always had a patron or two (although did I mention that currently I could do with more and wealthier), and one of my Patrons had a page from the Nuremberg Chronicle which at 18 they insisted I take from it’s protective envelope and run my hands upon. The first thing you cannot avoid noticing is that it is printed on a paper that is texturally rich. The blocks and type run deeply into the flesh of the page. You can close your eyes and feel it’s richness. The smell of the paper offers the senses the same promises that a great library offers. You literally feel it’s antiquity when you hold that work. The impressions of block and type cast shadows on the page, the shadows like trench’s in the earth rise and fall and guide the eye around the work. It is intimate and tactile and beautiful to view, to hold, to smell.
I still remember the smell of my first comic book which I bought 31 years ago. I remember the feel of that pulpy paper. The over inking of the pages. The precise artwork which fought back against the sloppy work of the printer
Works of ephemera and works of art, drive deep into the senses. They have to work intellectually upon the mind and seduce the touch, lure the sense of smell.
The tactile nature of a print needs to be more than a formulaic deep emboss under the 9 ton pressure of a T-Platen; which has its own perfect sterility so appealing to many “hipsters”. The intimacy of holding a piece of printed art, of feeling the piece, of not allowing your eyes to lie to you is part of the rich subtle nature of the printed work.
A first edition Franz Mazereel book, hand set in fractur font, printed from his hand cut blocks excites in ways that elicit a physical reaction in all but the deadest artistic sensibility. Art at its intimate best works sculpturally as well as intellectually and visually.
The eye needs to rest, and the eye rests best on imperfection. The imperfection of a ditch filled with muddy water.
I was told recently that paintings of sunrises are as rare as sales of green paintings. Artists historically don’t seem to (generally speaking) be early risers (staying up all night to watch the sun rise doesn’t count, I was informed) and the human eye sees green amongst all colours far more richly than any other colour so a painting in green is a painting which often lacks nuance to the eye. It’s a mechanical reality; I was informed.
Printing by hand, with an emboss upon the page can at its best be a subtle and textural food for the eye. Clumsy deep embossing lacks subtlety, offering a gimmick, it is formulaic clever art. It is everything which Tyler Durden dislikes in art. Tyler Durden is a fictional character of course although he is expressing a very real contempt for “clever art”.
Art is frequently an intellectual pursuit and as such it is the embodinent of knowledge under will. Married to the mechanical skills, it works on the linear narrative of visual acuity, it tells us stories. Great art allows us to project our stories into it, equally great art rejects your efforts to project your stories upon its nakedness.
You can have it both ways. That’s one of the great things about art! There is no formula but there are so many tricks and combinations and what you are left with is work and play...
I’ve seen masterfully applied deep embossing that borders upon genius. I’ve seen amateurish deep embosing which is shallow and gimmicky
I’ve seen shitty printing saved by masterful content. I’ve seen masterfully great technically astute and intellectually stimulating work destroyed by shitty choices of colour and terrible printing.
Great print work relies as much upon intuition and aesthetics as they do upon technique.
As I said it is a surprisingly complicated and stimulating question (if that is your passion) and books as they say have their fates depending on the comprehension of the reader...
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