Kathan Brown established San Francisco’s Crown Point Press fifty years ago as an alternative printmaking space focusing on intaglio. Intaglio is a subtractive, multi-process method in which an image is incised into a resin-covered metal plate, which is then dipped in acid that bites into the lines that have been cleared of resin. After the resin layer is removed, ink is applied to the areas of incision, eaten away with acid, and the plate and a damp piece of paper pass through rollers, pushing the paper into the incisions. It is fairly indirect, as far as art methods go.
With such a unique process, it is odd that the labels in the Crown Point Press’ exhibit at the de Young Museum, “Crown Point Press at 50,” seems to defensively focus on how intaglio is different from photography, painting, or drawing. Not only a basic knowledge of the process, but the quality of the works themselves, make that focus unnecessary. While some analysis of each work’s intrinsic value or background information would have added to the experience, we are given this quote from Tomma Abts next to three of her aquatints: “I don’t think the prints are a synthesis [of my paintings and drawings]; I think they occupy their own space. The imagery evolved from the etching technique.” Darren Almond’s “Civil Dawn” (2010) is accompanied by: “There’s a different energy breathing through the [photogravure images than you get in ordinary photographic printing. These have a depth to them. They feel more sculptural, more like objects.” Fine, but after Rembrandt and Albrecht Dürer’s long-ago success through intaglio prints, the curator’s efforts seem like a disservice to the works; the Crown Point Press pieces in the exhibit are a celebration of intaglio, but their labels are memorable for engaging in an argument no one is having.
Intaglio prints, (particularly those done by greats Ed Ruscha and Wayne Thiebaud at Crown Point Press), are distinguished enough by their line and ink’s richness. The process and its result are evidently set apart from its tangential mediums; there is a depth and clarity intrinsic to intaglio prints that are unique. If anything, they’re similar to reverse paintings on glass.
“Crown Point Press at 50,” is on view at the de Young Museum through February 17, 2013.
Tom Marioni, “Nest,” Mondonoir. 10 May 2012. Web 13 November 2012. http://mondonoir.tumblr.com/post/22774273519/tom-marioni-nest-2012-soft-ground-etching. Sol LeWitt, “Not Straight Lines,” Gifts of Art. Web 13 November 2012. http://artmuseum.msu.edu/exhibitions/online/GiftsofArt_AcquisitionExhibition/2000-AD.html.
Ed Ruscha, “Your Space Gravure,” Crown Point Press, 2012. Web 13 November 2012. http://www.crownpoint.com/prints/195/your-space-gravure.
Wayne Thiebaud, “Tide Figures,” Crown Point Press, 2012. Web 13 November 2012. http://www.crownpoint.com/prints/219/tide-figures.
Mamma Adersson, Faces, Crown Point Press, 2012. Web 13 November 2012. http://www.crownpoint.com/prints/2635/anderssonnordstr%C3%B6m-faces.