Since their invention, prints have been the focus of collecting and collectors. Printmaking has often been a means of translating large or singular works of art to a personal scale, allowing greater access to works of art. In the Early Modern period, reproductive prints formed private collections, or “paper museums.” In the 19th and 20th centuries, prints were sought-after as artworks in their own right, often serving as more affordable and attainable options for collectors. Artists began to use printmaking as a way of experimenting and spent time learning and working at print workshops, such as Atelier 17, Crown Point Press, Universal Limited Art Editions, and many other print workshops that offered residencies or work space for artists. Many collectors have focused on printmaking techniques as a way of building collections, with subjects as varied as portraiture, cityscapes, abstraction, or the medium itself.

Collecting – Spaces

Showing a city underpass at the late hour, Martin Lewis’s Arch, Midnight conveys a fraught moment in city night life with contrasts of shadows and light. A master of intaglio printmaking, Lewis often depicted city life at moments of activity, exploring themes of loneliness and companionship. Lewis was a friend of the artist Edward Hopper, whose Cat Boat is also seen here. Hopper is also well known for his depictions of the city and its inhabitants, but in Cat Boat he shows a leisure activity on the Hudson River. Although Hopper became a painter primarily, the artist sought Lewis’s advice during the period early in his career when he made etchings.

Collecting – Faces

Jackie Hetherington (American, 1935 – 1989), Mae, ca. 1985. Woodcut, 13 × 9 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Ann Zelle, 2018.2.1.
Jim Nutt (American, born 1938), Twixt, from the portfolio AGB Encore, 1997. Etching, aquatint, and soft-ground etching on paper, 27 5/8 in x 30 3/8 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, purchase funds provided in part by Christine and William Robb III and Herb and Roberta Nechin, 2011.5.

Artist Lovis Corinth made self-portraits throughout his career, and many show the artist in the act of painting, drawing, or etching. While earlier portraits often conveyed his success as an artist and captured his bourgeois existence, the later portraits are more psychologically and existentially intense, expressing thoughts of death and physical decline. In 1911, the artist began to lose his sight after suffering a stroke. In his work, Corinth confronts his own aging as seen in the trajectory of his portraits in etching and drypoint.

Collecting – Forms

Joan Miró (Spanish, 1892 – 1983), Untitled (Plate 1), from Series I, 1952–1953. Etching and lift ground aquatint on white wove paper, 37.8 × 45.4 cm. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, The Rudolph H. and Fannia Weingartner Collection of Prints by Sculptors, 2001.4.17.
Ed Paschke (American, 1939 – 2004), Pharaoh 47, 2001. Silkscreen monoprint on paper, 86.4 × 66 cm. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Marc and Sharon Paschke, 2019.20.6.
Andrea Carlson (Grand Portage Ojibwe, born 1979), Anti—Retro, 2018. Color screenprint on paper, 34 × 48 inches. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, purchase funds donated by Julie and Lawrence Bernstein Family Art Acquisition Fund, Press Collection Endowment Fund, and Block Museum Special Projects Fund, 2020.2.
Jaune Quick-to-See Smith (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Nation, born 1940), Four Directions, 1995. Color lithograph, 44 1/2 in x 30 1/8 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, gift of Curated Prints, Ltd., 2000.32.35.

In Four Directions Jaune Quick-to-See Smith uses lithography to create a collage effect. She has combined text with sketches and symbols  that are grounded in themes of personal and political identity. Smith describes herself as a “cultural arts worker” and uses her art to raise awareness of past and present issues in Native American communities. Four Directions refers to a Native American worldview, a concept used in prayers and ceremonies that refers to natural elements such as winds, seasons, and ages. Smith created the print at the Lawrence Lithography Workshop for Greenpeace USA.

Jasper Johns (American, born 1930), Decoy, 1971, Color lithograph and photolithograph with die cut on paper, 41 in x 29 1/2 in. Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, Gift of Bill and Sheila Lambert. 2004.1

For the series Eninka, composer John Cage created prints using damp cloths and wads of newspapers that were set on fire. As the newspapers burned, they were rolled through the press, with the markings captured on a sheet of paper as burns, holes, and traces of newsprint. Cage worked at Crown Point Press annually for fourteen years and used principles from his composing to create each print series. He set up predetermined systems using chance operations. In Eninka, the random marks, tears, and holes are particular to each print. Distinct marks were also added by branding, making each print subtle and unique. After the first successful print in the series, Cage exclaimed, “Oh, it’s beautiful! I can’t believe it. I couldn’t sleep all night. I thought my whole life had been a waste!”

Sarah Sze (American, born 1969), Night, 2003. Offset color lithograph and screenprint on paper (diptych), 37 1/4 in x 71 1/4 in. ary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, purchase funds provided guests at the April 21, 2012, benefit, 2012.3a.

While Sarah Sze is best known for her large-scale three-dimensional installations, Night was one of her first prints to translate her conception of space and three-dimensionality onto a flat plane. Using a combination of lithography and screenprinting, and working with a team of printmakers, Sze created a sense of space and movement on a monumental flat surface. As Sze explained, “These works investigate movement, disintegration, and disorientation . . . [They] frame a fragment of a larger system that could potentially expand beyond the frame.”

A pioneer in digital art, Jean-Pierre Hébert has been experimenting with computer drawing since the 1970s. Hébert coined the term Algorist to describe artists who were creating imagery by writing computer programs. For each concept, Hébert writes algorithms that translate the code into drawings, which are then at times transferred to printed media. Hébert’s work explores intricate properties of lines and rhythmic drawing. “The aim of my work,” he has stated,” remains an expression of quiet beauty and peaceful meditation.”

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