As a resident artist at Counterproof Press at the University of Connecticut this semester, I’ve begun to notice how many painters incorporate traditional printmaking processes and strategies into their work. Recently we saw Christopher Wool’s retrospective at the Guggenheim, and now Sylvan Lionni’s solo show at Kansas; both reflect the extensive use of screen printing.
Unlike Wool, who values the haphazard and accidental, Lionni uses screen printing to assiduously recreate mundane objects like rulers and dust-covered panels, implicitly questioning the practice of installing found or selected objects and championing the act of creation. At first glance, however, the pieces look exactly like the objects they depict. According to the press release:
Lionni starts with a dusty, industrial aluminum panel, photographs it, primes and prepares the ground, and then screen prints the image of dust onto the aluminum — a recursive gesture that points to the material bedrock of origin. In a series of ruler paintings, Lionni has meticulously recreated groups of framing squares by cutting, painting, and screen-printing steel in a process akin to industrial manufacturing.
His is not the art of the hand-rendered, yet his sensibility is very much in evidence in his choice of materials, scale, craftsmanship, color, and probably minute details that are not even obvious to me. The choice of subject matter is extremely important — important precisely because it involves selections that might generally be considered unimportant, objects from daily life that could so easily be overlooked. The energy in the work emanates from the lavishing of crafted attention on such quotidian wallflowers.
The work also expresses a sharp awareness of the history of art. A sense of play is evident as things are presented to us in a traditional gallery or museum context. The objects seem to beg the question, “How do we compare to traditional paintings?” I get such pleasure just saying what the subject matters of some of the works are: pieces of paper, rulers, and dust.
With Wade Guyton‘s use of digital printers to create massive prints on canvas, and Christopher Wool’s incorporation of seemingly sloppy screen printing in large-scale work, categories have broken down. Prints are paintings. Paintings are prints.
The easy integration of photography and digital media, the ability to generate multiples, and the option of printing on so many different objects and materials makes screen printing an especially seductive addition to the painter’s tool set. Unlike spray paint, which painters often apply in layers and with stenciling, the new water-based screen printing inks are non-toxic. Frankly, I’m smitten.