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Positive stencils were used for colouring early woodcuts, and have been used in Europe and America for commercially printing lettering from the 19th century. Masking stencils used in conjunction with a meshed screen were a Japanese invention several centuries old when imported into Europe at the end of the 19th century. The European adaptation of screenprinting to a commercial technique for cheap colour printing for packaging etc. was patented in England in 1907 and in America in 1915.

Albert Joseph Casson (1898–1992): Pheasant in a Corn field

Albert Joseph Casson (1898–1992): "Pheasant in a Corn field".
American colour screenprint (serigraph) c1930.  (215 x 260 mm)

It was in North America during the Depression that artists involved with the Federal Art Project began to experiment with screenprint aesthetically. It had the advantage of cheapness through requiring very little (and unsophisticated) equipment. Americans adopted the term serigraph (silkscreen drawing) to distinguish artists’ original prints in the medium from its commercial application.

In screenprint the image is built up by superimposing layers of different coloured inks. The ink is transferred to the paper by forcing it through a fine meshed screen (silk, cotton or metal) with a wooden and rubber paddle known onomatopoeically as a squeegee. At its most primitive cut-out paper shapes applied to the underside of the mesh block the transfer of colour in those areas. A different screen and set of masking stencils is used for each colour. The mesh can also be blocked by the artist drawing directly on the screen with liquid glue. The colours print with a hard edge and a slight texture given by the mesh. Early examples have a literal weightiness from the many superimposed layers of ink (see the illustration of the Casson “Pheasant” above and click for an enlarged detail).

Howard Hodgkin (Born 1932): Indian View C. Colour screenprint, 1971. (580 x 776 mm)

Howard Hodgkin (Born 1932):
"Indian View C".
Colour screenprint, 1971.  (580 x 776 mm)

Artists did not fully exploit screen printing as a new technique till the 1960’s, when it lent itself in different ways to both the prevailing styles of hard-edge abstraction and figurative pop-art.


Norah Vivian (exhibiting from c1937): Goat’s Quadrille

Norah Vivian (exhibiting from c1937):
"Goat’s Quadrille".
Colour screenprint.  (342 x 342 mm)


Peter Blake (Born 1932): Party (Sing Song)

Peter Blake (Born 1932): "Party (Sing Song)".
Colour screenprint and lithograph, 1996 
(485 x 435 mm)

A delightful ‘collage’ of appropriated figures set
in a Vermeer composition. The stencil layering
inherent in screenprint lends itself to such a subject.








See also :


Colour Lithography


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