In a simple thoughtful display in both rooms, the art of print manifests itself through forty-nine images by as many artists, 24 from Belfast Print workshop, 25 from PRISM Print International.
A digital catalogue is available at
It contains a brief history of both BPW and Prism, and their international network, list of artists, and images with captions.
Printmaking’s power to embody free labour artist, inventor of techniques and skill and publisher, secures its attraction to many; a value often described as “democratic” as opposed to elitist “Beaux Arts”. K Marx issued a distinction between a piano pianist as an artist and a maker of pianos as a worker. Printmaking embraces both.
While the MFA and Ph.D. degrees in fine art over the last few decades focus on the verbally describable idea as well as on the application of scholarly methods, this exhibition is “twice-born” through its focus on the chosen single image, the visible, and the development of ways to make its multiples.
A reminder of the thoughts of F Nietzsche (The Birth of Tragedy, 1872) on “primordial unity” of Apollonian and Dionysian principles he observed in the classical Greek tragedies. In classical Greece, in fourth- and fifth-century Athens, the major artistic prize of the era, for drama, was given under the auspices of Dionysus, a god of wine and ecstasy. a curious proto-patron saint of the arts, given the story of his birth.
Hera, Zeus’ wife and the goddess of heaven, tired of her husband’s philandering, convinced Semele, Zeus’s latest conquest to ask Zeus to reveal his true form — lightning — a sight Hera knew would kill her: No mortal can bear a god in full. Semele died. Zeus tucked their unborn son into his thigh, carrying him to term, earning the child the epithet “twice-born”.
This exhibition contains both mining of the history of art and inventive responses to here and now.
Recently commentators recognized that the rebirth of realism in visual art echoes that “twice-born” story. Modernism argued that realism is a conservative, commercial mode for a visual image. Whereas at present, it contains a thread of radicalism: the demand that we encounter in a work of art the particular depth of another person’s consciousness. Not a belief.
Michael Branson made me aware of a rare objection to the dominant (conceptual) mode of the majority of the visual art, seduced by multimedia and time-based processes. He translated Avelina Lesper’s argument:
“We need art, not beliefs. But just as atrocious crimes have been committed in the name of faith, we see how, in the name of the belief that everything is art, art itself is being demolished. The change of substance that turned any object into art is a phenomenon of language, it focuses on the conceptualization of the work, on the meaning, on the intention of the artist, on the curatorial discourse, on an aligned and complacent critical explanation, that is, on a rhetorical exercise. The constant of this rhetoric, of this concept, is that it contradicts the very nature of the object.”
(El fraude del arte contemporáneo* [The Fraud of Contemporary Art] (Bogotá: Panamerica Formas e Impresos, 2016: 16-17:)
I have not read her book – I have no idea what she means precisely by “the very nature of the object”. However, I share her defense of tacit visual thought, the what and how is made visible. The tacit direct link between what I see and how and when it becomes my aesthetic experience. Often it is instant, direct.
The deepest significance of the “Graphic Editions” is the autonomy of the visible.
The very first exhibit on entering the exhibition sets expectations high. Apology – the image is too small to make the drama of people in evening attire with faces of the skeletons, visible.
MIN JIE ZHANG offers a dynamic revival of social critique as an apocalyptic story. It echoes the paintings and prints of Dance of Death, e.g. Hans Holbein or Bernt Notke(Totentanz, Luebeck, end of 15thC, below, courtesy Wikipedia)
The freedom to connect across time and space is not only a precious avantgarde idea, but it is also deeply moving admission of similarity of fears and concerns our species have across differences in time and place.
The practice of selling artist’s prints in medieval markets on stalls next to vegetables, which Albrecht Duerer encouraged his wife Agnes to do in Nuernberg, just opposite the window of the room with his press, established print as “more democratic” than singular painting.
While the public (patrons, art market, galleries, auctioneers) makes a value difference between the aura of originality and aesthetic experience the artists did not, do not. Joseph Beuys even looked for terminology that would distance his printmaking from the commercial one, calling his prints on blocks of wood, or felt, “multiples”.
Visual artists today are like magpies, picking up new techniques, processes – mixing them up in unexpected measures. This exhibition offers excellent examples of the virtuosity with single techniques as well as combinations of several.
Take the exquisite drypoint by Mikael Kihlman, its details, and the rhythm of light and dark recall the softness of brush or charcoal. Adorable is the craft of balancing the rational observation with feeling through a gradation of light.
Market in Cracow, 1994Printed images often served politics, ideology, and news. The story of Agnes, Duerer’s wife, points to their supporting role for the painter and the (hand-printed then) books.
Visual artists developed group exhibition ever since Le Figaro (I think Albert Wolf 1876)) compared the First Impressionist exhibition to the disaster on the par with the Paris Opera being damaged by fire. Soon – Europe’s printmakers joined across boundaries (like in Prism) and entered the galleries as equals.
Art dealers, auctioneers etc turn visual art into a commodity but tell nothing about the aesthetic value of a work of art. Multiples attempt to shift the value judgment away from the business and close to the viewer’s experience. Making visual art is still free labour – as it was in paleolithic cave paintings and prints.
Printmakers often focus on moral issues. Think Honore Daumier.
John Read wrote: The new series of ‘Songs of the Earth – Masques’ explores the vision of an underworld of chthonic forces masked behind elaborate metal ‘faces’ composited from metal drain covers I photographed on my recent travels in Japan, Poland, Italy and the UK. The frightening face of what we repress! (www.john-read.co.uk)
His series renews a call for people to act as good ancestors, while younger generation prefers attacking habitual thought,e.g. the- white- on- white photo etching by Fiona Ni Mhaoillir. When clarity is the same as confusion, and a chance is like an order.
The glory of observation and economy of means do not disable poetry of a considered still life by Lisa Murray. Her photo-intaglio is also an enchanting refrain of naturalist’s catalog and Dutch 17th C still lifes – minus pyramidal composition.
It is reminiscent of playful Hellenistic mosaic.
The fluency of mastering the technique is a part of the viewer’s aesthetic experience – I suppose Monson got it during the years with Stanley William Hayton who furiously protected the work standards in his Parisian studio. Yes, furiously – on my visit decades ago.
Rebecca Jewell prints on real feathers. The image titled Fragmentation I(Blue and Orange) is surprisingly whole, together, in the way First Nations in USA and Canada manage/compose their wearable art. It feels both dead and alive, a trophy and a loss.
The technical mastery is not necessarily detracting from the unfathomable aesthetic experience of the image of nature, in this case, the blue sea. It is removed from a precise observation while it effortlessly engages memories of salty and fishy scent and cool of the sea on a hot day. Sensual riches are feather light in relation to the laborious process.
Print making is also a friendly helper to verbal art, this time with a portrait of the writer/filmmaker, rather than an illustration of the poem by Coleridge.
The black gnarled tree reminds me of Altdorfer and Danube School of the landscape, their departure from Middle Ages. This image of an abandoned man-made construction in a powerful landscape is similar to the late medieval statement about the death of something man-made. Here that verse resonates for me again.
Consequently, a dose of constructivism in jolly light colours offers a balancing act. With a smile.
Masahiro Kawara’s sensitive observation and steady hand mastering the chosen tool and technique cherish the unimportant, neglected, yet significant sign of privacy, whereas it allows that powerful edifice on the left to evaporate. It feels that both entrances are out of use. The elegant drawing carries a message about us that is not at all elegant.
Visual pleonasm? Not quite.
A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.
Adapt Bachelard to visual art and you get: the particular depth of another person’s consciousness.