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Vol. 6, No. 1
February/March 2003


More Is Better 


by Lynn Cook
art courtesy Honolulu Printmakers

Banana Delight
Russell M. Davidson 1969

It’s a perfect day at the Honolulu Printmakers Workshop in the Linekona Art Center building, part of the Honolulu Academy 

of Arts. A young printmaker cranks the etching press slowly forward, the squeak of its rollers holding great hope that when the damp paper is pulled away

from the inked intaglio plate there will be a masterpiece—or at least a successful first print. The pungent fragrance of etching ink fills the air. Rollers "snap" across the glass, indicating that the ink has been spread to perfect thinness and is ready to be rolled onto the plate for printing, followed by tense moments as the artist lifts the paper to discover perhaps a perfect print, or perhaps a total disaster.

La Muse
George Woollard 1987

Ask any printmaker for a definition of the art form, and they’ll likely tell you that creating the Sistine Chapel might be easier than this incredibly difficult, ridiculously complicated, time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes fruitless method of making art—to which they are totally addicted. Why? The agony and the ecstasy of printmaking is seductive, and there is the ineffable allure of being able to create art in multiples. As Honolulu Printmakers executive director Laura Smith succinctly puts it: "More than one is fun."

From the earliest engraved rock art to the invention of the printing press, artistic etching has been a means of communication throughout human history. In the second century A.D., the Chinese made the transfer of such images possible by inventing paper. From 500 to 1000 A.D., the Japanese used stencils to produce patterns on fabrics—a process that later evolved into silk-screening. After 1437, when Johannes Gutenberg’s moveable-type press connected woodcut illustrations with the printed word—the beginning of true mass communication—European goldsmiths and other metal workers soon became master engravers of printing plates. Then, in the 1700s, the inking process of lithography was invented, allowing images to be transferred directly onto a stone or metal plate without carving.

Today, printmaking can be done in any number of ways, from a beginner carving a linoleum block in Art 101 to a professional studio artist creating a mixed-media extravaganza that may even include digital images. Pick a name: Rembrandt, Picasso, Dali, Gauguin, Jackson Pollock, Peter Max, Andy Warhol—all of them, and many more, have at one time or another been seduced by the mistress of multiple images.

The Enigma of Man's Role on Earth
Helene Wilder 1993

As it happens, Hawaii has a surprisingly long and vital printmaking tradition. According to master printer Judith Solodkin, who was invited from her New York studio a few years ago to judge Honolulu Printmakers’ annual show, there are more printmakers per capita in Honolulu than in any other city she’s ever been to.

It’s understandable that Hawaii’s lush tropical colors have long been a magnet for painters. But why printmakers, whose etchings and lithographs are often monochromatic? "It’s the lines, the curves of the waves, the undulating beauty of tropical foliage," says Honolulu Printmakers’ Smith. "And the drama of tropical prints, like tapa and carved tiki images, which are always popping into your line of vision."

Said to be the oldest continuously active printmaking organization in the United States, Honolulu Printmakers is celebrating its 75th anniversary this year. In commemoration, the organization will be presenting three exhibitions: the annual juried exhibition at the Art Center, March 13 to April 6; an exhibition of seventy-five years of gift prints at the Honolulu Academy of Arts, March 13 to May 4, accompanied by a special catalog; and a "past and present" printmakers show in the Diamond Head Theatre Lobby Gallery, March 21 to April 6.

City & County of Honolulu
Elsie Das 1945
Linoleum cut

Marcia Morse—art critic, master printer and editor of the Honolulu Printmakers 75th anniversary catalog—recalls the organization’s early years, 1928 to 1934, when John Melville Kelly’s etchings gave the world classic, sylph-like images of Hawaiian women. "Collectors now bid large sums for a print that might have cost just a few dollars back then," she says.

Kelly, a founding Honolulu Printmakers member, was one of the first artists to create the organization’s now-traditional "gift print." Each year, one of the organization’s members is selected to create a special print, which is made available to members for a minimal price at the annual show. Quite a few of the artists who have contributed such prints are now world-renowned. Lucky members may have in their collection prints by artists like Charles Bartlett, Madge Tenant or Juliette May Fraser, whose works now hang in museums around the world.

One particularly notable gift print contributor was famed painter and muralist Jean Charlot, who also created over 800 editions of prints. One of his passions was the alchemy of lithography, which is based on the fact that oil and water don’t mix. Here, chemical magic allows a delicate crayon drawing, done on a limestone slab, to be rolled with ink and printed under pressure an almost unlimited number of times. Charlot’s distinctive vision of the Hawaiian environment shines through his multicolor lithostone prints, like the 1959 gift print, Swimmer. The swimmer’s massive hands celebrate the ease of gliding through tropical waters as undulating hair and octopus-like forms describe his poetic motion.

Noche Crist 1963

As a special commemoration of Honolulu Printmakers’ anniversary, this year’s gift print is actually a portfolio of five prints by noted artists who have contributed pieces in the past: Allyn Bromley, Hiroki Morinoue, Wayne Miyamoto, Deborah Nehmad and James Koga. The prints will be housed in a portfolio created by graphic designer Hans Loffel, who also designed the anniversary exhibition catalog.

While painters may need only a canvas, paint and a brush to create their works, the printmaker’s essential tool is a large, immobile printing press. Each press weighs hundreds of pounds, costs thousands of dollars and can’t be tucked into a corner like an easel. To help Honolulu artists gain access to such machines, local printmakers have maintained membership workshops at a number of locations over the years. The latest Printmakers Workshop incarnation, founded by Morse and Smith in 1989, offers open membership, with a monthly studio fee that covers inks, press time, solvents, chemicals, printing stones and so on. (Printers provide their own paper and metal plates.)

Now housed in the beautifully renovated Linekona building, the Workshop’s three presses were relocated from the group’s first home: a dilapidated gas station on the grounds of Kapi‘olani Community College. ("Printmaking isn’t a tidy art," says Smith, "and printers can survive almost anything, but the sludge on the floor of that old car repair pit was worse than any of the toxic chemicals we use.")

Louis Pohl 1951

At the Linekona workshop one recent afternoon, the light is fading. "Squint your eyes," says a voice from a body hunched over the etching press. "If you look out at that girl in the garden, it has the aura of a John Kelly print. You know, that nostalgic view of Hawaiian images, with that ink effect he used to create soft lines. I wish I had been here in 1928 just to watch him print."

The young printmaker leans in closer to her etching plate, wiping and burnishing, moving the ink around, waiting for the magic to happen. Maybe this one will be it. Selected for the annual show? The juror’s pick? Win an award? With printmaking, you never know...

Honolulu Printmakers 75th Anniversary Shows:

Academy Art Center, 3/13-4/6
(808) 536-5507

Honolulu Academy of Arts, 3/13-5/4
(808) 532-8701

Diamond Head Theatre, 3/21-4/6
(808) 733-0274

Visit honoluluprintmakers.org

The Anchor Takes Command
Joseph Feher 1973 Intaglio