interview by Maureen Booth
Intriguing Discovery of a DVD Which Leads to a
I recently ran across a DVD called Printmaking in the Sun, a solarplate demo film made by American printmaker, master printer and educator, Dan Welden. The film was so well-made and so persuasive that it immediately made me think: "Is this, at last, the painless route to less-toxic printmaking?" It made me want to get hold of some solar plates and try the technique. I was also prompted to contact Dan Welden, congratulate him on this excellent printmaking educational film and, in passing, see what he had to say for himself.
After finishing his master's degree in the U.S., Welden, "dissatisfied with his situation and longing to learn," decided to go to Munich for further study. According to Welden, Munich's reputation for music, art and beer was a great lure. Thus trained on both sides of the Atlantic, Welden returned to the States, eventually making his home and studio in Sag Harbor, Long Island, a couple of hours outside of New York City. Besides suceeding in his own career as an artist, he has worked collaboratively with artists like the de Koonings, Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns and Robert Motherwell, among many others.
Dan Welden is the owner of Hampton Editions and director of Printaganza, Ltd., a nonprofit center for international research and education in printmaking in Sag Harbor, New York.
kindly agreed to talk to World Printmakers.
A: I actually never accepted the title "artist" until I had to write something down as an occupation. I always considered myself the "student of art." As to when the light of being interested in art came about, that was at the age of ten, when my teacher supported my talent by encouraging me to draw.
A: Since this encouragement was well planted, it formed the basis for a strong desire to continue studying art. But I got there by an indirect route. First I started studying education, which I found boring. It was not until I'd been teaching for several years that I took the decision to go back to art school in Munich. That was truly the greatest art education that I ever had, due to my mentor, Kurt Lohwasser.
A: Sag Harbor is bucolic indeed. The "Hamptons" have always been considered the New York playground. The delightful part to me is being away from the scene and become secluded in the wooded hills. Although I had lived in that "other part" of Long Island, I was working and collaborating with some very well known artists, including the de Koonings, Flavin, and many others, that lived on the 'east end.' I rented a studio space and set up my stone lithographic presses. It proved to be a great move. At the same time, my own imagery started taking hold.
A: My architectural interest, never left. I was inspired by a house silhouette of a beautiful shape in a Winslow Homer painting. I designed my home around that structure, later finding out that it was his own studio. It took about six years to get it together since I did a majority of work on it myself and my funds were limited. If an aspiring builder wanted to tackle something like my adventure, I could write a book on the joys of creating a space. It was a totally rewarding experience with lots of help from friends and also business people. They helped make my dream into a magical vision.
A: Consider the 'positive pathway' approach and realize that the artist is a creator who, with the help of the right tools, brings his/her inspiration into focus. Once that avenue is chosen, it is important that this identity is maintained until it is exhausted. If it parallels the passions of love, it will never leave.
A: Kurt Lohwasser showed me a polymer plate and explained its use in industry. I took it and 'changed' its use from the relief principal to the intaglio technique. It was no great stroke of genius to try something new with a material, it was, however fortunate timing. People were beginning to become more aware of health and safety issues revolving around traditional printmaking techniques.
Instead of using acids, solvents and grounds for etching, Solarplates
use sunlight and water. The same results and more, are obtained. In addition,
the plates are more spontaneous, direct and quicker than traditional techniques.
Printmakers also approach the technique more with a lithographer's directness
than the etchers multi state method. The artist can also create with the
positive image in mind, not the reverse, or negative sense of the intaglio
plate. The speed at which the printmaker can pull impressions is also
a great attribute. Since the backing of the Solarplate is steel, it can
be inked on a magnetic table creating a solid, stationary surface for
quick, simple wiping.
A: In a way, yes, although the plates are not worked in a darkroom. They can be exposed in normal incandescent lighting. Development of photographs is exciting watching the image appear, while development of the Solarplate is part of the process. The excitement of Solarplate is just like any etching being unveiled coming through the press.
A: I would hate to see traditional intaglio work go by the wayside as much as seeing darkroom development disappear. The love of process as well as certain nuances will always remain in the hearts of printmakers and photographers. Although the digital movement has made a huge impact, and Solarplate printmaking is in its infancy, artists are gravitating to both techniques, due to the qualities one can achieve. When it comes to quality of photographic work with Solarplates, it has reached the level of photogravure.
Q: What about editions. Since the plates are steel, presumably they standup well to large editions. Or not?
A: I have witnessed over 100 impressions being pulled from the Solarplates but I have also seen the images deteriorate after 50. It depends on the printer. The plates are actually made of Polymer and backed with steel.
A: There is very little that people have come up with as of late that is surprising, however when I conduct workshops, I love the surprise that experienced printmakers have whenthey discover how "easy" and rewarding the process is.
A: A bit of both, actually. It is primarily concerns regarding health and safety which induces people to adopt Solarplate. Old etchers, especially males, tend to stay with what they know and are successful with.
A: I personally do not make a big issue over these issues. Educated people know, by the plate mark, that it is an etching or a hand pulled print. I always disclose the information and the term Solarplate etching has become pretty generic. If people want to know, I tell them but its more important that they see image and not technique. When the public wants to know the answer of the stupid question "how long did that take you," you know they are really not paying attention to image.
A: I have actually worked on all continents and what is really wonderful is that printmakers have many more similarities than differences with their approaches to their art. I find the profession is more influenced by the people and their personalities. If one were to stereotype, the Aboriginal printmaker approaches things differently from the Peruvian or the Japanese printmaker. Different lands make teaching and collaborating very exciting; I would be burned out if all printmakers were from New York!
A: I believe the computer has its place and function, it is here to stay. I believe the computer print alone is something that should always be identified as a digital image. Digital imagery is similar to traditional prints up to a point. However it would be better if all prints, both those which are hand pulled, and those which come out of ink-jet printers were clearly labeled with full disclosure of their techniques. The problem I have is when digital prints are labeled with fancy names that are no more than a a cheap, mystifying marketing tool.
The Solarplate technique, I might add, represents a wonderful link between the computer and the hand-inked, hand-pulled print therefore putting the DNA back into the art.
Q: Looking at the 2005 course schedule on your website (www.solarplate.com),we see that you dedicate a significant part of your time to educating people in Solarplate techniques. The schedule looks fascinating, with courses in interesting places on both sides of the Atlantic and further afield. How do you feel about teaching and traveling?
A: Its never tiring to be in different lands and always interesting. My only problem is that I also love my home and miss it. I have traveled extensively over the years and hope to continue, but time will take its toll. I have established an international research and educational center called Printaganza, Ltd. This will provide me with the opportunity to continue as long as I am capable here at my home base.
A: Printaganza is my "old age" plan. It will be a building dedicated to printmaking and a project to keep me at home. Its a not for profit institute for the purpose of invited artists to work on specific projects as well as an educational center. Printaganza is in its infancy and I'm not quite sure how it will be financially supported and how I can get the right help, but I hope to have a board that will have the solutions to its longevity. It will also have lots of presses and a gallery space. I hope to break ground within the next two years. I'll be able to walk to work!
A: Although I have made numerous appearances in videos and TV programs, the making of a video about my own approach to printmaking was a big gamble. I feel good that it was done, however it was a serious investment in time and money. The two year project was initiated by a grant from the Vogelstein Foundation in New York and supplemented by my own savings. It was filmed by an award winning cinematographer, Karola Ritter as her last project in Sag Harbor before returning to Europe. It was an expensive production, and I would not have been able to do it without the support of the grant.
The filming was fun, especially with Karola. The editing was a nightmare; I had a difficult time watching and listening to myself. I am happy with the results, however, and very pleased to hear that people learn something each time they watch it. As to advising other artists to create their own film, why not. It's an adventure but not something to make money with. The Printing in the Sun DVD can be ordered from my website, along with a book by the same name, co-authored by Pauline Muir and me, and a range of Solarplate printmaking materials: www.solarplate.com.
A: I don't have any expectations. I would hope,however, that printmaking in general would make progress in the future. I would love to see more and more-active presses in schools and communities and younger people getting their hands into ink. If Solarplate can help stimulate the activity, that would be great!
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