Inspired by Spontaneity, Contemporary Printmakers Make Editions of One
The processes of monotyping and monoprinting, related but distinct, are historic: Edgar Degas was already making them in the 1870s, before Thomas Edison invented the light bulb.
Degas didn’t dream up the idea—that credit goes to the Italian artist Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1609–64)—but he did popularize the monotype with well-known works like The Ballet Master (ca. 1874) and Three Ballet Dancers (ca. 1878–80). Now, at a new group show in New York, a selection of contemporary printmakers show how far the form has developed in the years since, and the ways the processes have stayed the same. “One of One” is a collaboration between two organizations: VanDeb, a printmaking studio in Long Island City, New York, and Susan Eley Fine Art, the gallery hosting the show.
The show’s title, “One of One,” refers to an essential fact of these types of printmaking—the idea that every print is unique, an edition of one. Monotyping involves applying paint or ink to one surface, overlaying it with a sheet of paper, and passing it through a press; a monoprint, in contrast, typically employs an etched plate. But in both processes, there are countless factors that can affect the outcome. Several of the artists featured in “One of One” speak to this element of chance in their practices.
Karin Bruckner, for example, is an architect-turned-printmaker whose practice borrows techniques from etching, paper lithography, chine collé, and collagraph. She’s talked about the “happy accidents” that take place during the printmaking process, resulting in bold, text-focused, mixed-media monoprints like blue? (2015) and WOW (2014). Deborah Freedman, co-founder of VanDeb Editions and an artist whose own works take inspiration from the landscapes of the Catskills, puts it like this: “Monoprinting is a particularly spontaneous process that allows me to capture images in an animated process of invention…transferring from plate to paper is magic.”
Other featured artists, like the Japanese-born Fumiko Toda, draw attention to another aspect of the printmaking practice: namely, the precision and attention to detail that’s required. Many of Toda’s intricate monotypes, like Field and Nala (both 2015), depict insects or scenes from the natural world. Observing wildlife has been a longtime hobby for the artist—and a form of escapism from what she has described as a difficult childhood.
Highly detailed, each piece unique, born out of “happy accidents”: these are phrases that capture the colorful beauty of Toda’s butterflies. And, by extension, the “painterly print” itself—the art of monoprints and monotypes.
“One of One” is on view at Susan Eley Fine Art, New York, Nov. 4–Dec. 31, 2015.
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