Andy Warhol and Screenprinting
By Alison Sigala-
Andy Warhol, one of the founders of the American Pop Art movement, rose to popularity in the 1960s, bringing the screenprinting process with him into the mainstream art scene. He is famous for his drawings, paintings and experimental video art, but many of his best-known works were not painted but printed. The iconic Marilyn Monroe and Campbell’s soup cans, among others, were created using a silkscreen printing process, which was how Warhol managed to repeat the exact same image several times. That widely recognized Andy Warhol style, with all its shifting color schemes, was made possible through printmaking.
Long before he got into printing and pop art, Warhol had a life of art experience at home and at school. He was bedridden for a spell as a child, an ordeal that kick-started his artistic interests. He took to drawing to pass the time, and soon after picked up photography. For college Warhol studied commercial art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology, and graduated in 1949 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in pictorial design. A few months later in September, he moved to New York to start a job as an illustrator for Glamour Magazine. Even then, his art process showed a vague likeness to printmaking. He would incorporate rubber stamps and blotted ink to create a very distinct style. After his illustrations had gained in popularity, Warhol was hired by RCA Records to make advertisements and album covers. He also managed and advertised for the band, The Velvet Underground. It was around this time that he picked up screenprinting.
Silkscreen, screenprinting, or refers to the “fine mesh” screen that is stretched across a frame, a screen that originally was made of silk. More recently synthetic fibers like polyester have been used to make these screens, because it’s more durable and quite a bit cheaper. To create the image, a stencil is made on the screen. Areas that will not be printed are sealed, and ink is pushed through the open areas. A stencil can be made by cutting out of paper or foil or some other flat material, and sticking it to the screen. Other methods include drawing on the screen with a kind of sealing medium -like paint or glue that will effectively seal off areas once it dries- and using photographic processes. Warhol was particularly fond of the photographic method, where the screen is covered with an emulsion and exposed areas burn away. In this way, he made stencils from photographs of celebrities. Once the stencils are made, the frame is placed over the paper or fabric that is to be printed on, and ink is pressed over the screen with a squeegee. If one is printing with several colors, like Warhol did, different frames are needed for each color. Andy Warhol used fairly transparent inks and layered them on top of each other in his prints. Often they didn’t line up perfectly, but he relished the imperfections and the spontaneity of the process.
Warhol would often employ assistants or printing studios to get the bulk of his work done, especially after his art became really popular. These people would help with things like inking the screens and transporting papers, the meticulous print process. He would supply the idea and design, and they would supply extra hands to carry it out. The most prominent printers he employed were Styria Studios Inc., Alexander Heinrici, and Rupert Jasen Smith. Warhol was particularly impressed with Rupert Smith’s work, and continued to work with him for the rest of his life, even allowing Smith to put his printer’s stamp next to the signature.
For Andy Warhol, printing was an extremely effective means of producing art, considering he explored the ideas of commercialism and celebrity. He was very much a part of that life, having advertised for bands and shoes throughout his career. His studio was called The Factory, and he would host gatherings there, with other artists, writers, and celebrities. His art in some ways was about mass production, and through printing it was mass produced. It was about constant demand, and was in constant demand. It was about fame, and it made him famous. The nature of his art took on the very consumerist ideas he explored, and won him a lot more than fifteen minutes of fame.
Here are some Warhol quotes for the fun of it:
"In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes"
“What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coca-Cola, Liz Taylor drinks Coca-Cola, and just think, you can drink Coca-Cola, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good. Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.”
Andy Warhol Biography: Painter, Filmmaker (1928–1987). biography.com June 6, 2016 http://www.biography.com/people/andy-warhol-9523875#related-video-gallery
Andy Warhol Screenprints – The Process and History. Revolver galleries, 2016. http://revolverwarholgallery.com/andy-warhol-screenprints-process-history/
Silkscreen Printmaking. The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica. Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/technology/silkscreen
Andy Warhol. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, November 6, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andy_Warhol
Silkscreen Printing. Miriam Zegrer, Artelino.com, October 2004. (last updated February 2014.) https://www.artelino.com/articles/silkscreen-printing.asp
Screen Printing. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, November 8, 2016. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Screen_printing
11/16/2016 11:17:09 pm
One of my favorite things about Warhol is his loose confidence in drawing. He is well known for his photographic looking prints that are all sorts of colors, within many of them are hand drawn tracings or lines which add an element of excitement. They gave every photo he touched an extra little flare of life that a photo couldn't quite reach.
11/17/2016 12:34:06 am
I loved this research project! Andy Warhol is one of my favourite artists and I'm interested in learning more about and trying screenprinting. I found this very informative, because I don't know that much about silkscreening. I never knew that there were alternative methods to the "photographic" process of silkscreening or that silk screens are manufactured with synthetic mesh now. Do you think that Warhol's original messages about consumerism and fame were lost when he gained popularity, or gained new insight and a meta sort of take on the themes?
11/17/2016 04:11:41 pm
I didn't used to like Warhol much. Once I learned more about his meaning, though I thought he was pretty great. Before I did this research project I was pretty much sure that screenprinting was magic. XD I'm so intrigued by it -I really want to try it out! And I feel like Warhol did take on a sort of meta attitude towards consumerism... like he became his art in a way, or his art became him.
11/17/2016 12:33:04 pm
I love Warhol's connection with commercialism and repetition in his prints. The pieces he produces resembles advertisements. We see advertisements everywhere and they're what seems to be repeating and never ending. If it's not repeated then it wouldn't be a successful advertisement. It's a very subtle but smart connection.
11/17/2016 07:44:43 pm
This is a very interesting research paper. I was unaware that Warhol did screen-printing, but after viewing your information, it seems obvious to me now. He was a very good artist with obviously broad mediums. Thank you for sharing this information.
11/17/2016 09:22:20 pm
I've always really enjoyed the simplicity of Andy Warhols prints. He uses all the right colors together that make the collection as a whole wonderful to gaze at. Its pretty cool that he was so successful in his lifetime. It seems crazy to me that someone can be so successful in their art that they have enough money to hire people to help them create their pieces.
11/17/2016 10:24:05 pm
Alison! I was going to snag Andy Worhol but I figured by the time I got to writing this someone else would have. Great choice. I didnt learn until this semester that he was into screen printing but once I did, it all made sense. One of the grad students actually told me that he leaned more towards Lithography and photo lithography for his fine art which was crazy to me since I hadnt even heard of these until i took the class. Definitely an interesting dude I would love to know more about. Your writing helped a lot. :)
1/17/2017 11:28:19 am
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