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For once, some good news – it’s possible for those entering the world of adulthood to satisfy their aesthetic needs without going broke. This is a golden age for original prints, which are both an affordable way to kick off an art collection, and an appropriate bridge between dorm-room posters and the kind of art – such as paintings and sculptures – that feels intimidating or even impossible, for cash-strapped millennials to consider buying today.
First, a lesson: You know that reproduction of van Gogh’s Starry Night that adorned the wall of your first apartment? That’s a poster, essentially a very high-quality photocopy. It differs from an original print, which an artist inks and hand pulls from a matrix – the surface, be it limestone, a block of wood or a metal plate, on which the artist creates her image.
Original prints are perhaps the perfect art form for twenty- and thirtysomethings who grew up in a world steeped in digital culture and the fusion of the commercial and aesthetic realms. This is a generation that can look at a beautiful website design as art. And as with vinyl records, the originally intended purpose of promotional posters has been undercut by digital technology. People are more likely today to discover a new band, product or event online; as a result, the aesthetic value of a poster – its actual, physical on-paper existence – becomes more important than its function.
Printmaking has been around in some form for centuries, but people still mistake original prints for reproductions. “There’s such confusion in the public’s mind,” says Newfoundland-based printmaker Christine Koch. “Often when people think of prints, they’re talking about reproductions.” Printmakers usually produce several editions of each image they make. Each edition is an original work of art, but the fact that more than one person can own the same image helps keep the price of a print lower than that of a painting or sculpture.
Astrid Ho, the print sales and archive manager at Toronto’s Open Studio, a non-profit, artist-run print studio and gallery, calls original prints “affordable yet collectable.” At Open Studio, where you can buy works from more than 100 artists, prints sell from $50 for a small lithograph by Theresa Morin to $3,000 for a unique mixed-media print by Libby Hague, a range that accommodates a whole host of budgets. Ho says her clients are a mix of individuals and corporations such as BMO or National Bank.
The studio also attracts plenty of first-time buyers and new art collectors, and customers can pay in instalments.
Whatever your style, there is a printmaker out there creating work to suit it. Interested in big, bold, collaged prints? Try Faile, a Brooklyn-based duo that creates limited-run sets of large prints that riff on pop-culture iconography. Looking for a neon explosion of psychedelia? British artist Philip Huntington, a.k.a. Dogboy, is your man. Of course, there is no shortage of Canadian artists creating vibrant, challenging prints right on our home turf. Here are a few homegrown artists to spark your search.
Koch, an Edmonton native studied painting, drawing and sculpture at the University of Alberta before she agreed to take a one-year position curating a retrospective of St. Michael’s Printshop in St. John’s in the late 1980s and never left. The task inspired her to take a printmaking workshop, and she’s been creating hybrid works incorporating painting and printmaking ever since. Koch’s recent prints are large-scale landscape pieces, dark, moody works inspired by her visits to northern Labrador.
Location: St. John’s and Woody Point, Nfld.
Price range: $150-$1,000
Shogo Okada immigrated to Canada from Osaka, Japan, in 2011, and just a year later won first prize at Open Studio’s fifth annual National Printmaking Awards. Drawn to the creative freedom inherent in printmaking – artists can incorporate photographs, illustrations, and paint into their works – Okada often uses old cartoons such as Peanuts and Curious George as source material. “It’s like sampling or quoting in hip hop,” he explains. His simple yet playful use of colour and shape has made Okada an emerging artist on the Canadian printmaking scene.
Price range: $40-$600
Born in Yorkshire, in Northern England, Gillian Armitage got her art education in Britain and the United States before settling in Vancouver in 1974. She’s a mixed-media artist and her works vary in style: A recent trip to Japan resulted in a series of prints with clean lines and bold shapes, while other series feature tightly clustered patterns and vastly different colour palettes. Armitage, who also paints and sculpts, likes that printmaking “opens up all kinds of avenues for creativity that other media do not.”
Price range: $120-$1,000
Where to buy: malaspinaprintmakers.com