Artists choose to work with the screenprint medium for its graphic and bold qualities and for the ability to create an even, flat surface color. It is essentially a stencil process with one color printed at a time and requiring many screens for a multi-color final print. The terms silkscreen, screen print and serigraph are used interchangeably. MOMA describes screen printing and silkscreen printing as “a printing technique in which areas of a silkscreen, comprised of woven mesh stretched on a frame, are selectively blocked off with a non-permeable material (typically a photo-emulsion, paper, or plastic film) to form a stencil, which is a negative of the image to be printed. Ink is forced through the mesh onto the printing surface with a squeegee, creating a positive image.”
A wide range of approaches to screen printing are employed by the artists in this selection of prints, which includes Josef Albers, Laurent de Brunhoff, Richard Estes, Hugo Gellert, Yvonne Jacquette, Deborah Kass, Alex Katz, Jiha Moon, May Stevens, and Donald Sultan. Hugo Gellert’s proto-pop looking silkscreens from 1943 are replete with visible squeegee marks and irregularities. May Stevens’s “Big Daddy with Hats” is one of her only prints of her infamous Big Daddy and also a strong example of political pop. Gellert’s screen prints and a May Stevens “Big Daddy” drawing are currently on view in the Whitney Museum’s inaugural exhibition, America is Hard to See.
Richard Estes’ monumental “Holland Hotel” is mind boggling in its complexity and a photo-realist screen print tour de force depicting a New York City neighborhood mid-day and devoid of figures. Yvonne Jacquette’s “Chelsea” is a night view from the artist’s studio building roof-top on 29th Street in 1996. Jacquette re-arranged the buildings and used a simple outline for the fire escape in contrast to the multi-layered surfaces of New York’s water towers and building facades. Jacquette spent almost a year on this print before realizing that she had the traffic on Sixth Avenue going in the wrong direction. She added additional screens to reverse the brake and head lights.
The Josef Albers screen print is part of his “Homage to the Square”— an exquisite and deceptively simple image based on the relationship of these yellow colors and a sheer overlay of colors within a square.
Jiha Moon’s one-color silkscreen, “Procession-Detourist,” is printed on a handmade lacquer Hanji paper. Moon’s ribbon-like blue line encompasses Disney’s Snow White along with a Chinese spirit. Laurent de Brunhoff, the author/illustrator of the Babar books, spent a year making four screen prints including “Celeseteville by the Sea.” Here the architecture of Celesteville is inspired in by the Hotel Negresco in Nice and Babar’s family can be found throughout the scene, including the Old Lady on the balcony.
Donald Sultan’s “Red Poppies” at first glance appears to be two colors: red and black. To achieve the richness and depth of color and texture Sultan used seven layers of red to create the final color and added flocking for the black center. Deborah Kass’s “Being Alive” is based on a painting from her “Feel Good Paintings for Feel Bad Times” series and borrows its title from the Bee Gees’ disco song.
Alex Katz’s “Black Dress” is one of nine in a series of women in black dresses, all in the same pose. Katz’s screenprints typically begin with a painting. For “Black Dress,” he made drawings based on the painting that he then used for the screen prints. As the prints were made after the paintings, Katz had time to re-work areas that he thought needed more attention. The prints are another approach to the image. “Black Dress” series was two years in the making and are the most recent prints on view.