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  Serigraphs - A Brief History

Serigraphs are the newest form of prints to be accepted as fine-art prints, ‘Serigraphy’ the printmaking technique used in making Serigraphs has the shortest history as a fine-art medium.

The origin of this technique is attributed to the ancient and simple stencil methods, However early stencils have not survived and hence the exact date of the origin of this technique is difficult to ascertain. Documented details regarding the use and development of the stencil technique in China and Japan between A.D. 500 and A.D. 1000 are available. The Chinese and Japanese in the early days used this technique for printing textiles and the Japanese are credited with the earliest development of a screen matrix type which is a direct predecessor of the modern screen. They achieved this by using fine silk threads to create the screen matrix thus giving this technique another name by which it is more popularly known commercially i.e. Silk Screen Printing.

The use of silk screen printing was quite widespread by the early 20th century and its usage was mostly commercial due to its versatility in printing on various substrates and its flexibility to accommodate smaller print runs at very low costs.

Artist–Printmaker, Anthony Velonis played an important role around the year 1935 in getting the silk screen process noticed by the artist community as a medium of fine-art but met with limited success as the silk screen printing medium was perceived purely as a commercial technique rather than an artistic one.

It was then that Carl Zigrosser, curator of the Philadelphia Museum of Fine Arts felt the need to differentiate between artistic and commercial silk screen printing and introduced the term ‘Serigraph’ to be used for artistic and creative silkscreen work, this term being a combination of the Latin word ‘seri’ meaning ‘silk’ and the Greek word ‘graphos’ meaning ‘to write’.

This development of silkscreen prints now known as ‘Serigraphs’ when used by artists for creative purposes led to the formation of ‘The National Serigraph Society’ in 1940. This society was formed by a group of artists that exhibited ‘Serigraphs’ throughout the world with an emphasis on exposing the creative possibilities and aspects of this technique. This wave of exposure laid the foundation for ‘Serigraphy’ to become accepted as a legitimate fine-art printmaking process and resulted in many well known museums adding ‘Serigraphs’ into their print collections.

By the year 1950 there were many artists using the serigraphic process to make works of art, a few of the noted ones besides Anthony Velonis are Harry Sternberg, Guy Maccoy, Hyman Worsager, Elizabeth Olds, Loris Bunce, Mervin Jules, Edward London, Ruth Gikow and Ben Shahn. Subsequently artist Marcel Duchamp explored the next level of serigraphy.

The 1960s were when artists such as Ron Kitaj and Eduardo Paolozzi in collaboration with the famous English printer Christopher Prater produced well accepted fine-art ‘Serigraphs’. Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein used ‘Serigraphy’ widely to capture images of ‘Pop’ art synonymous with the sixties with great success. They are credited with transforming well known images of American culture into fine-art ‘Serigraphs’ that are sought after by many art collectors.

Certain artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, James Rosenquist, Brice Marden and Joe Tilson extended their creative application of serigraphy by experimenting with this process on various substrates such as metallic plastic, acetate film and metallized acetate film. These artistic experiments and many more were possible because of the wide variety of substrates that can be used for screen printing or ‘Serigraphy’ and the ease by which it can be used in combination with various other mediums including collage, painting and printmaking.

-  Lavesh Jagasia