Earlier this year, Dreyfus Sotheby’s International Realty hosted their first gallery event; Why Prints? in partnership with Sotheby’s Auction House. The soaring, light-filled space on Oak Grove Avenue in Menlo Park offered the perfect backdrop for stunning artwork by famed printmakers Nathan Oliveira, Chris Ofili, Laura Owens, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud and Charline von Heyl.
Along with the gallery-quality display of prints, the event featured a discussion of the history of printmaking by speakers Kathan Brown, founder of San Francisco’s world renowned Crown Point Press, Mary Bartow, Sotheby’s New York’s Head of Prints, and Karin Breuer, Curator in Charge at Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco.
Printmaking as an art form
Printmaking as a technique started in the 4th century CE and was used to reproduce religious texts and manuscripts. Over time it became much more than a medium to preserve texts and became a new and original art form.
Just as da Vinci used a paintbrush and Rodin used a chisel, printmakers use a matrix (typically a copper plate) to transfer ink to sheets of paper. Although multiple prints may be made from each matrix, every print is considered an original rather than a copy. This is because each print varies to some extent due to the printmaking process. Multiple impressions printed from the same matrix form an edition. Artists generally sign and number individual impressions from the matrix to form a limited edition; the matrix is then destroyed to insure the integrity of the pieces.
Fine art collectors often start their collections with print due to their relative affordability (thousands of dollars compared to perhaps millions of dollars). And prints created by established artists tend to be safe investments.