How often do you screen print?
I have a binge and purge relationship to screen printing depending on the time of year. If I’m teaching screen printing I find myself less inclined to reach for it in my studio. So I end up screen printing a lot more during the breaks and summers.
Who first introduced you to the process?
We didn’t have the capacity to do any screen printing in undergrad, so I learned the basics in graduate school from Matt Hopson-Walker, who generously took the time to work with me (he was a fellow grad student at the time). And the following year I took a class at The Lower Eastside Printshop with Roni Henning, which is where I think I actually got a handle on what I was doing.
How do you utilize it in your own work?
I generally approach screen printing in one of a few ways. Most often, by using it to drop flats of colors into etchings or drawings. I love the conversation between the graphic shape and the gestural mark, one describing a clear abstraction, while the line work evidences my hand wrestling with perspectival space.
I am also interested in the way the history of print informs the content of a work, so I look at a lot of printed stuff from our material culture. And when it seems appropriate I might quote a color, pattern, or halftone. Or even attempt a facsimile.
And I love to use screen printing for production, making ephemera and non-fine art things like, posters, postcards, t-shirts, tote bags, whatever a given situation might call for.
I imagine you have seen a lot of screen print setups over the years. Which ones stick out in your memory the most?
As a kid I would never miss an episode of MacGyver, in the same spirit, I try not to miss an opportunity to visit a printshop. Memorable.. hmm.
Well, for sheer DIY virtuosity, Jo Watanabe’s studio, Watanabe Press now associated with Pace Editions, in Gowanus, Brooklyn, was maybe the most astounding. Everything in the shop was beautifully crafted out of wood by Watanabe and his crew over the years. And the shop was set up for some very, very large-scale printing including one of the biggest exposure units I have ever seen. When I visited they were finishing up work on a Chuck Close print that had over a hundred layers and a gorgeous Pat Steir print that was taller than me.
A few other big production shops have stuck with me (all coincidently in Brooklyn), include: Luther Davis’s (formerly of Axelle Editions) new shop BRT Printshop which is fully mecha, with lots of giant auto-presses pulling impossibly large and beautifully detailed prints. And Flavor Paper, the high-end custom wall-paper printing shop is definitely worth a visit. Their printing facility is completely white, while the upper floor showrooms are super mod, think, 2001: A Space Odyssey meets A Hard Days Night.
One the flip-side, the collective Space 1026 in Philadelphia might be the most function set-up that still retains a fully punk rock patina. A person could spend all day chipping dried emulation off the walls of their screen coating vault-room (literally) and never hit building. I’m sure there are more worth noting but those stick with me.
Have you ever had to print t-shirts? As a job?
Not exactly. In the late 90’s my sister hooked me up with a job working in a production screen printing sign shop in Seattle for the summer. I crashed in her apartment and worked as a printer’s devil on an auto-press as big as a car printing plastisol ink on plastic signboard. My co-workers were all disgruntled musicians who seemed to have arrived their by way of making gig posters and band t-shirts. We printed large menu signage for Panera Bread franchises by the thousands. I pulled the mis-prints and tried not to huff too much ether while cleaning ink off the screens. It was a crazy experience, pretty much exploding what I thought I knew about the medium.
Do you teach silkscreen? I saw a student prop a screen up with their iPad. And they were watching Netflix.
I have been teaching screen printing nearly as long as I’ve been teaching. As the last ‘pre-digital’ print media to be added to the canon it often has strange relationship to institutional curriculum. At some places it was housed in the Photography area, in others it was the only printmaking method taught. And no one can seem to agree what to call it: at some schools it’s called silkscreen, or serigraphy, or screen printing (with or without hyphen, or space).
The only consistent factor is that students really want to learn how to do it. I think this is because of it’s quick-n-dirty DIY reputation, and it’s historic and current role in counter culture movements. Whatever the case, screen printing is still one of the best gateway drugs to the printmaking major.
I have never seen an iPad screen prop.. and I don’t think I’ll give it a try.
What types of innovations have you seen happen within the medium?
Printed circuitry is a pretty new development for me. A few years ago, Matt Neff, at PennDesign, worked on a collaborative project with a scientist to develop a bioluminescent print on glass that was powered by fungi. I’m not sure it ever quite worked but it was super future magical.
At NADA Miami in 2015, Sara Cynwar utilized exposed screens as objects in a larger installation. Watching something I saw as a tool effortlessly transform into an aesthetic element blew my mind.
And maybe the rise and fall of online print communities. Over the years I have probably learned as much from the gig posters forum (gigposters.com) as I have from any one book or teacher. How we got along without this cloud-mind resource before and how we will get along now that it has folded is beyond me.
Screen printing has miraculously allowed many artists to remain viable and independent, it seems, and increasingly so. Do you ever see that changing? Even with more attention being paid to technology?
Everything is always changing, at least until Modernism as a cultural paradigm completely falls apart. So yeah, I expect at some point screen printing as we know it will fall out of favor, or be replaced (maybe by a frenzied interest in Risography?). But it’s important to remember that the boom in screen printing (along with the resurgence in letterpress and relief printmaking) came about in response to the early breakthroughs in the digital technology. People purposely turned away from the desktop publishing and design computing with it’s desktop printers and internets (and their utopian promise of Myspace and print-your-own holiday cards). These early un-adopters sought out ways to make something real. So even if the next generation of artists goes full VR 3D-printing disruptive innovation, etc., I have faith that some folks will become curious about having an actual experience. And who knows rubber-stamping and dot-matrix printing will make their comeback.