On 10th September 2008 Bodo Korsig, an artist based in Germany and the USA, had a long telephone conversation with Richard Noyce. This is a record of part of that conversation:
RN: Bodo, do you think printmaking will survive?
BK: It has already survived a long time – from ancient prints on hand- made paper and taken from stone, many centuries ago in China, in a similar way to the rubbings made from coins by children using paper and pencil.
RN: And, long before then, the hand-prints made in caves, perhaps the first attempts at signature?
BK: Of course, and they appear in caves all over the world, together with images relating to hunting, food, sex and survival – basic needs common to all ancient tribes.
RN: What next?
BK: Well, by the Middle Ages painting had become the dominant form of visual expression, and printmaking has never quite achieved that level. Except that an important thing about printmaking was the ability to make editions, with multiple copies of an image AND OF COURSE BOOKS-THINKING OF GUTENBERG In recent years however the unique print, monoprint or whatever, has asserted itself.
RN: Yes, and this is becoming prevalent in many parts of the world, and using a wide range of mediums. It is one sign of the vitality of printmaking.
BK: And also print incorporated with sculpture, as installation, as 3D forms. My prints are unique, but had their starting point in woodblock prints on canvas. Not that I defined these works as ‘prints’ – printmaking was the process but not the result.
RN: Are you known as a printmaker or as an artist?
BK: Well, I don’t make editions, I don’t use a print workshop, but I have been given awards in printmaking competitions. For me the important task is to use whatever processes are valid to achieve the results I desire.
RN: What changes do you think will come about with printmaking in 20years’ time?
BK: Perhaps not a great change, considering the degree of change in the past twenty years in Germany, where no huge changes came about.
RN: Your perception of the degree of change in interesting compared to my perception and experience of the changes in Poland in the same time, a country next door to yours. Can I ask you then what changes you think might come about in a longer period of time – say 50 years?
BK: Artists will increasingly make work that overlaps with 3D and video, perhaps at large-scale room size, perhaps with transparent sheet hanging in the centre, something closer to a sculptural installation. But in a way this is nothing new: 15 years ago perhaps I had wooden cubes and pyramids made, then printed on canvas and wrapped this round the wood pieces, so I was already experimenting in this medium. I did this for 12 months or so. I had always had it in mind to print on large sheets of transparent plastic and then make a slide or video show over these. Is a digital or traditional image projected on transparent sheets a form of printmaking?
RN: If you look at the Wikipedia definition of printmaking you will see that it most certainly would be.
BK: As a part-time professor at the Academy I have seen waves of fashion in printmaking mediums come and go, etching, screen-printing, monoprint and more recently lithography, a very physical and labour-intensive process. I think that in the future we will see much more digital work – it is less labour-intensive.
RN: Not necessarily less labour-intensive, although certainly less physical. Digital printmaking done well requires the mastery of very complex technology and software and a thorough understanding of how the equipment, and the materials (papers, inks and so on) function in order to produce high quality prints.
BK: But people make machines because they want an easier life. Perhaps in the future machines will replicate processes such as woodblock cutting. What will happen then?
RN: I think that processes of all kinds are becoming far more sophisticated. For example, the jury of the 2006 Krakow International Print competition found it difficult with some works to say with certainty what process had been used to make the print – sometimes it was necessary to look at the label to be certain! There seems to be a convergence between digital and traditional processes that many artists are embracing with enthusiasm. In the end of course works were selected for their aesthetic qualities and the quality of the image, not because they represented one process or another.
BK: When I started working with the woodblock process, some 20 years ago, I went to immense efforts to get every part of the process right. If I made a mistake I would start all over again. Now I am prepared to accept that methods can be cheated to achieve the desired result. In fact some of my printed works are painted over to create a mixed-medium work. And I actively encourage my students to use collage, paint, mixed print processes to achieve the results they desire. This approach was unacceptable 20 years ago, but is now part of the mainstream.
RN: Do you think this tendency will continue, even increase?
BK: Of course, absolutely!
BK: It is called evolution – and society becomes more tolerant of new processes.
RN: How do you see the interface between art and society developing over the next 20 or 50 years?
BK: There will always be collectors, those rich enough to buy and collect art, even if they don’t know what they are doing! AND THERE WILL BE ALLWAYS PEOPLE WHO ARE ARTLOVERS AND appreciate ART.But some collectors I have met don’t understand art, only money. I wish more people could collect art because they love it.
RN: But even the art market is changing: Damien Hirst is cutting out the gallery in his September 2008 exhibition and is selling over 250 new works directly to buyers through Sotheby’s Auction House in London.
BK: Damien Hirst still needs collectors. Professional artists need collectors and museums (to support there shows)if they are to make a good living. But again, the sad thing is that in the USA and recently in Europe and Asia too it has become fashionable to go to Art Fairs, where shopping for art has become a kind of statement to society – ‘look at me, I can afford this’ – creating a word of mouth trend for one or another artist’s work. Buying art from an unknown artist in this situation is fraught with danger. Too many people buy a work of art, not because they like it, but because it is in the right galleries or collections: this makes me angry and sad! A lot of people are not confident enough to buy art because the like it
RN: It is a curious reflection of our times, when the nature of the edition approach to printmaking was intended among other things to make the work affordable to a wider number of people, as a more democratic way of selling art to make a living. Now this is changing as unique prints aspire to the position traditionally occupied by painting.
BK: But Damien Hirst makes editions – for example, editions of 50 prints of butterflies, sold at AROUND $30 000 US. Surely this is a good thing?
RN: It is if you can afford such high prices. But remember, Hirst didn’t actually make the prints himself – this was done by assistants in one of his three studio workshops.
BK: Like many artists in the past!
RN: Is there anything else you would like to add?
BK: Thinking of the future, if I consider 3D laser-cut production, the same process might be adapted to printmaking.
RN: Yes, it could. 3D prototyping machines already exist which can replicate complex 3D forms, and this technology will like all others eventually trickle down to the domestic scale.
BK: This is natural – and it will happen with 3D printing as well. Artists always will, as they always have done use the machines resulting from industrial technology to make their work.