American sculptor Richard Serra (born 1939) is an accomplished printmaker, who has made over 200 printed works in a span of 45 years. Like his sculpture, Serra’s prints reflect his interest in process, the expansion of scale to monumental proportions, and the artist’s ingenuity in pushing the boundaries of traditional methods and techniques.
While there is an obvious relationship to his drawings as works in two-dimensions, Serra considers his prints to be distinct for their specific relation to the mechanical process. He has described drawing specifically for printmaking and how it inevitably transforms the work: “Oftentimes the spontaneity of the line is lost, or the ink will mottle or blot a form that was unintended. To understand the medium, I think you have to draw specifically for it…” Serra’s desire to capture this transformation—the very process of printmaking—has led him to experiment with nontraditional materials such as silica and Paintstik to create works that exceed the limitations of traditional printmaking in scale, material, and method.
Serra started making prints in 1972 with the Los Angeles-based print workshop and studio, Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Editions Limited). Known for innovation and a willingness to experiment, Gemini earned a reputation as a welcoming place for all artists—even those who had no experience with printmaking. (For example, artists such as Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Frank Stella all worked with Gemini throughout their careers.) For Serra, working with Gemini allowed him to collaborate with master printers who understood the limitations of printmaking and were capable of working with Serra to challenge the preconceived boundaries of the medium. Not knowing the “rules” of printmaking allowed Serra to believe that anything was possible.
The artist’s earliest prints were executed as lithographs, a method of printmaking that translates the drawn mark and the artist’s hand more directly than other methods. Prints such as Balance and Double Ring II, both of 1972, reveal these aspects of lithography, as they give the effect of a loosely drawn sketch. As Serra progressed in printmaking, his interest in line gave way to a fascination with mass, and he transitioned from lithography to experimenting with screenprinting and Paintstik in 1985. One of the largest examples of this technique is Robeson, measuring over eight feet tall and five feet wide, weighty in physical mass as well as formal imagery. Weighing over 180 pounds, the print’s textured and dimensional surface approaches relief sculpture, while the solid black rectangle envelopes the viewer in an immersive experience.
Unlike numerous artists who use drawing as preliminary sketches, Serra uses drawing and printmaking as a means of re-seeing the finished sculpture and, Serra explains, as “…a method for me to bring sculpture to definition, i.e., to understand the work in totality after its completion.” Etchings from his Venice Notebook series (2002) were made from the artist’s drawings done while in a cherry picker high above the installation of his of two torqued spirals Left/Right and In/Out/Left/Right, which Serra created for the 2001 Venice Biennale. Likewise, the lithographs from Sketches (1981) were made by transferring drawings of his public sculpture T.W.U. (1980) to an aluminum plate with lithographic rubbing ink. In each series, the artist attempts to capture the feeling of movement and physicality of his sculpture through the printmaking process.
Drawn from the collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, Richard Serra: Prints is a comprehensive retrospective of Serra’s work in printmaking, from his first lithographs in 1972, through his Reversals series of 2015. The exhibition will provide viewers with a greater understanding of how Serra transitioned between methods (lithography, silkscreen, etching), experimented with materials and scale, and created works that lay bare the process of printmaking. Visitors to the exhibition can also see Serra's monumental Cor-Ten steel sculpture My Curves Are Not Mad (1987) in the Nasher Garden, as well as his Cor-Ten steel prop piece Inverted House of Cards (1969-70) in the gallery alongside Serra's prints.
Support for the exhibition and related educational and outreach programs has been made possible by a grant from the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation.
Opening Reception, Nasher Sculpture Center, January 2017
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