ON THE OFFSET PRESS
More and more, one comes to know an artist's work through the widespread reproduction of artwork in books, periodicals and special editions. The great progress that has been made in offset lithography's ability to reproduce art has redefined the relationship between the artist and his/her audience. The size of the audience has undeniably expanded, but this new audience has had to share a given artwork at an aesthetic distance determined by the lithographer's (printer's) inability to precisely reproduce the artwork. Quite simply, the painter's pigment is not ink; neither is the photographer's silver.
While many artists have shrugged off the issue of reproduction as merely an old misfortune, others have sought to address the problem by securing the best (and, necessarily, most expensive) offset printing, or by accepting ink as a workable means of expression. ON THE OFFSET PRESS presents the work of four contemporary Americans who have approached the machinery of reproduction to produce original artworks.
Scott Hyde, Syl Labrot and Todd Walker are photographers; Joan Lyons, though primarily a printmaker, has long been associated with photography. Their offset pieces certainly reflect this shared tradition but also explore the color and tonal possibilities of ink applied by machine to paper. While the printing process serves each artist as the form of their expression, the source and content of their works come from places as diverse as the artists themselves.
Todd Walker, who operated a highly successful Beverly Hills photography studio for more than 25 years, received considerable acclaim during the 1960's for his solarized photographs of nudes. These photographs, together with the masterful solarizations created by the late Man Ray during the 1920's and 30's, remain one of the most exciting achievements in manipulative photography. He began working with the offset press about ten years ago as a means to publish his own work. His current imagery is derived from black and white negatives; the color is synthesized by a series of photo-mechanical masks. He has produced three small edition books of his photographs and writings during the last year: for nothing changes, a few notes, and three soliloquies.
Joan Lyons is a printmaker who has utilized various image-generating machines to create a surprising personal expression. Her prints characteristically undergo several generations of reproduction including drawing, xerography and color offset lithography. She has produced several book editions of her work, including Bride Book: Red to Green, and Abby Rogers to her Granddaughter, and two portfolios of offset prints. A co-founder of Visual Studies Workshop in Rochester, NY, she currently directs their print shop.
Syl Labrot's recent photographically-derived offset work is a significant departure from the traditional single image. Pleasure Beach, a lavish extension of the photographic book, is a remarkably dramatic exploration into his own history and imagination. Its foundation is Labrot's long-standing concern with the color photographic print as a space quite separate from both the reality reproduced by the camera and the graphic forces of the print: the print transcends its parts, yet is deeply linked to them. Working with offset allowed him to reconstruct and redefine his own evidence, much as if he were his own archaeologist.
Scott Hyde's interest in de-mystifying art led him long ago to the inherent possibilities of inexpensive, large-edition offset lithography. His work is deceptively simple in the way that Stieglitz, Atget and Evans are simple. His subject matter is not exotic, but rather commonplace. A patch of grass, a few brushes, a sidewalk synthesis drawn from his own neighborhood: simple objects, when really seen, may well reflect the depth of experience that an artist may bring to them.
During the process of preparing this exhibition, we were saddened by the death of Syl Labrot. He was a special friend to many in the world of photography, and was a teacher for many young offset artists. We hope that their work and this assemblage of offset prints serve him well.
Phil Block and Tom Bryan