Sunday Lifestyle

Looking at the fine print

With the many challenges facing the visual arts today, the ignored art of printmaking is art’s most threatened genre. As young artists choose to pursue careers in painting or sculpture, today’s printmakers fear that Philippine printmaking may become extinct soon.

Jess Flores, vice president of the Philippine Association of Printmakers (PAPM) and printmaker since 1975, explains, "The problem is the mentality of collectors here in the Philippines that prints are mere reproductions, that they are not original artworks. This is not true. Even if a print is editioned or produced in a limited run, it’s still an original artwork and it’s still limited. In the case of monoprints or monotypes, there is actually only one copy. That makes it as unique as any painting. Only in the Philippines does printmaking take a backseat to other forms of art. In other countries, like the US and Europe, it is a widely accepted form of art."

Essentially, the difference between printmaking and painting is the process the artist follows to produce an artwork. In printmaking, instead applying paint directly onto the canvas or paper, he would apply paint onto a plate from which the artwork’s mirror image is lifted onto the papers sending both plate and paper through a machine, which prints the image.

Flores further explains, "Usually a print comes from a design that is carved or etched on a plate. If it is made from limestone, then it is called a lithograph. Or if you use a metal, like copper or zinc, then that is an etching. Or if it is wood, then that is a woodcut. Prints can be editioned in any number the artist wishes and the artist numbers all copies of the print by putting 1/50, 2/50 and so on. If it is editioned in one copy only, then it is called a monoprint and the edition number is just 1/1 or MP. In the case of a monotype, it is even more like a painting in reverse. There is no etching, carving or existing design on the plate. What you do is paint on a blank plate and then you place the paper on that plate to get the image. It is like painting backwards. So even if you wanted to, you cannot make two copies because there is no existing design on the plate. And the only difference with painting is the process. You paint on the plate first then you apply it to the paper to get a mirror image."

Even if printmaking is a required course in many fine arts programs, most young artists shy away from it partly because painting and sculpture offer better financial rewards and partly because printmaking takes a lot more physical work.

"Many of our leading visual artists are printmakers – including Bencab, Olazo, Luz and the late Jerry Navarro and Legaspi. But there is really much more money in painting, and printmaking is more expensive. The paper and paint are more expensive and are hard to get here in Manila. You also need access to a workshop, so you can use the machine. And then every time you run something through the machine, you have to clean the plates and the machine. So it is much more demanding physically. It is easier to just paint!" he adds.

There are essentially two disciplines in printmaking: Making the plate – which is done by the artist – and physically running the plates through the machine – which is done by the printer. Although often the artist does both tasks, some artists prefer to let a printer do the actual printing for them.

"The artists are allowed to do up to 10 percent of a print’s total edition as artist’s proof and the printer can keep one copy as a printer’s proof. These are exactly the same as the editioned versions of the print but they are not numbered. They are labeled A/P #1 or P/P #1 and so on. In the US, the printer actually gets three copies but here they only get one," he explains.

After completing the printing of the entire edition, Flores shares, "Normally, we destroy the plate or we sometimes drill holes and have it framed so you are not tempted to make additional copies if it sells well. But actually most of the time, even if you do an edition of 50, if you can only sell 10 or 20, then there is no need to produce the entire edition. It is usually very hard to sell the entire edition."

There are limitless techniques that can be used in printmaking. In Jess’ T-shirt series, he used his children’s old clothes to create patterns on his plates. But he points out that an artist can use anything with texture to make beautiful prints – leaves, grass or even tissue paper.

"You can just put all these things with texture together and make a collage," he says. Arrange them on an illustration board and varnish it so it doesn’t move and that can be your plate. There are no limits to what you can do and even if sometimes your ideas turn out bad, that should not stop you from experimenting. Like in any art form, you need to experiment in order to grow. You need to keep creating and keep changing styles. You need to evolve. You need to always get confused and find a solution."

Part of the PAPM’s objective is to keep the art of printmaking alive. This year, its main project is to help educate the educators by helping the teachers in the different universities update their knowledge of printmaking so that they can share more than just the basics with their students.

"Prints are good for those who are just beginning their art collections because they are relatively affordable. The bad news is that there are less than 10 active printmakers today. It will be very sad if the industry dies without a new generation to replace us."
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The works of Jess Flores are available at The Drawing Room at Metrostar Bldg. 1007 Metropolitan Ave., Makati City. For inquiries, call 897-7877, or e-mail [email protected].ph. Visit its website at www.drawing roomgallery.com.

Flores’ works will be featured in ARTSingapore from April 8 to 12, at Suntec City Singapore, Concourse Level 3. Log on to www.artsinga pore.net for details.











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