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What exactly is a Serigraph? © by KC Moore

September 1, 2011

Today I visited The Annex Galleries (Fine 19th & 20th Century Prints) in Santa Rosa California.  I spoke with the knowledgable owner of this gallery of unique art work – the majority of it on paper and nothing ‘new’!  I found him and it through a search for works of the late Howard Bradford.  The owner, Dan Lienau was both courteous and entertaining.  The thing you would notice first is the immense history he holds, and the second is his in-depth understanding of the medium he represents.  It is worthy of a day trip for any Northern California art lover.

We discussed the technique of the serigraph, especially the ones of the early 1950’s of which he was most interested – especially the abstract work.  It was then a fairly new medium which allowed artistic expression in an age when the small number of printing presses he said limited the ability of artists to produce work; it was a simple and inexpensive way to produce art.  Robert Alan Smith made his own printing device for serigraphs and he was considered among the best of this era along with Howard.

In a most accommodating way Dan literally copied the following definition of a serigraph for me.  It is the best and clearest statement of the medium I  have seen to date.  He actually took it from the statement for ‘Great Salt Lake’ by Mesches which we discussed with another client.  It reads as follows:

The Serigraph  “…It is an original work of art, designed, printed and signed by the artist.

In producing a serigraph (seri=silk, graph=drawing) the artist makes a separate stencil for each color on a length of fine-mesh silk stretched over a wooden frame — the ‘silk screen’.  Then the colors are imprinted consecutively on the whole edition, until the print is complete.  Oil base colors, fine paper and the unique textural qualities of the silk combine to make a serigraph an object of lasting beauty and value.

Although in commercial use since the turn of the century, silk screen printing as a fine art medium dates from the middle thirties.  The first print-making process to offer the artist unlimited opportunities in design and color, serigraphy has won speedy recognition.  Most American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art, have acquired serigraphs for their permanent collections.”

RA Smith ‘pulled’ probably 6,500 individual serigraphs in the original way with his hand-made system.  Again, Robert Alan Smith was among the best of his time and collected by the Metropolitan Museum and many, many other art venues.

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