Not simple prints, but real works of art! Lithographs, serigraphs, limited editions made by the greatest artists of all time. How to orient yourself? What to choose?
From Pablo Picasso to Andy Warhol, the author’s graphic arouses an higher interest and more and more collectors compete to acquire the most beautiful and rarest multiple editions.
Yet many are still skeptical, they wonder why prints can reach very important prices; why collectors are so attracted to this type of works of art and why to buy them.
Let’s start immediately by clarifying that those we are talking about are not “simple prints”; this is not a normal printout of a file on a computer. Instead, they are real works of art, designed by artists with a precise logic and a specific creative process, so much so that there is not much difference between a single piece and a limited edition. The real difference lies in the quantity: if an Andy Warhol canvas, unique piece, exists in a single copy in the world, a limited edition (for example a silk-screen) of Andy Warhol exists in a specific number of copies in the world with certain characteristics and, generally, with a signature and a numbering made by hand by the artist himself.
The different types of graphic works
There are many different types of limited editions, all with specific and different characteristics, but the three best known techniques are etching, lithography and screenprint.
The etching technique consists in the art of producing signs, by the artist, on a matrix of hard material (generally metal). Once inked, this matrix is impressed by means of a press on a sheet of paper, creating a print.
The etching techniques are many and are divided into two large groups: relief techniques and cable techniques. In the first case, the matrix is dug by the artist and it is in correspondence with these grooves that the whites of the work will appear (in this circumstance, the areas left in relief will therefore be inked and then imprinted).
In the second case, using an engraving needle, the artist scratches an image on the metal plate covered with wax. The plate is then immersed in acid, which corrodes the exposed metal from the scratched lines. The longer the plate remains in the acid, the deeper and darker the line will be. The plate is then cleaned, inked and wiped clean, leaving only the etched lines filled with ink.
The image is printed upside down and a recess is left on the edges of the plate, known as the “plate mark”.
James Rosenquist (1933.2017), Appearance, from ‘The Glass Wishes’, 1981. Drypoint-etching and aquatint printed in colours
Using the lithographic technique, the artist draws directly on a plate (generally made of stone) with pencils, pens and brushes that deposit a greasy substance in correspondence with the traced mark. Thanks to the possibility of creating the composition directly on the plate, as if it were a sheet, this technique is characterized by an enormous freedom and variety of achievable works. The stone matrix is then moistened with water, which is deposited where there is no fat. The ink, also enriched with fatty substances, is passed over the entire surface, adhering only to the traced marks as it is rejected by the water.
Finally, the stone is placed on a lithographic press and covered with damp paper and cardboard: a pressure bar ensures that the force is applied uniformly on the image. The image is printed in reverse, with multiple stone matrices to create more complex images of multiple colors.
Valerio Adami (1935), Senza Titolo, 1964. Color lithograph on paper. Size: 50×70 cm
Screen printing is a printing process with one or more colors, the shape of which consists of a silk screen stretched on a frame, silk that is degreased and cleaned before providing, with different methods, to differentiate the parts that must be permeable to inks, from waterproof ones. At the time of printing, the frame, mounted on hinges, is lowered, but not completely, on the support that must receive the impression; the artist who creates a screen printing pours the ink along the upper edge of the matrix, distributing it over the entire surface, and then proceeds to print, completely lowering the screen so that the ink penetrates through the free meshes of the silk to be collected from the underlying support.
Shepard Fairey (1970), Power & Equality: Dove, 2019. Color screenprint on paper. Size: 61×45,7 cm