Issue Number: 95
The artful shopper
Scott Reyburn points to a new boom in contemporary prints
At precisely 8.30am on Thursday 8 March, the online publisher blackratpress.com released a hand-coloured etching by the London street artist D*Face, priced at £350. Issued in an edition of 50, Death and Glory (below) is a mordant parody of that famous image of US Marines raising the Stars and Stripes over Iwo Jima. By 9.05am, the entire edition had sold out.
D*Face, Death and Glory Courtest blackratpress.com
D*Face is an associate of Banksy, the world’s most famous – and most expensive – graffiti artist. In the same week that Death and Glory was flying away by post, a canny speculator was ‘flipping’ Banksy’s 2006 screenprint, Four Soup Cans with Gold Tops, in a similar edition on eBay for around £25,000.
Street art is where the action lies in the contemporary print market. Every day, dozens of works by politically engaged urban artists like Banksy, D*Face, Antony Micallef and Blek le Rat (who is widely credited with inventing the stencil graffiti technique that Banksy has made his own) are sold by online retailers, such as blackratpress.com, picturesonwalls.com and lazinc.com, to a new generation of buyers in their twenties and thirties. But are these proper prints? And how long can the Banksy Effect last?
The 29-year-old founder of blackratpress.com is Mike Snelle. Until a year ago, he dealt in modern British prints and is fully aware of the market’s frothiness: ‘People like to make money and the prices are going up. But what I’m trying to do is marry “wow” images that speak to my generation with the quality of execution in traditional printmaking. If a great image is backed up by great technique, it should still be around in five years’ time.’
It was Snelle who introduced D*Face to the process of etching. Similarly, James Golding of the Leonard Street Gallery, which specialises in street art, plans to commission linocuts and woodcuts from New York’s leading graffiti artists, including the acclaimed MoMA-exhibited Swoon.
These enterprising young dealers are following in the footsteps of established names, such as Alan Cristea, Paul Stolper and Charles Booth-Clibborn of Paragon Press, who have spent years encouraging artists to explore the possibilities of printmaking.
According to Booth-Clibborn, few are drawn to the medium on their own. ‘Whomever I talk to, whether it’s Damien Hirst, Antony Gormley RA or Grayson Perry, they always say the same thing: “I did a bit of etching in my foundation year, but that was about it.”’
In 2004, Booth-Clibborn persuaded Perry to pick up his etching needle again. The resulting work, Map of an Englishman, sold out swiftly and now hangs in the East End home of National Gallery Director and future RA Secretary and Chief Executive, Charles Saumarez Smith. But examples of Perry’s other major etching, the seven-foot-wide Print for a Politician, 2005, are still available from Paragon Press.
At the same time, other young artists are embracing newer technologies. Alan Cristea turns over several hundred thousand pounds a year from sales of Julian Opie’s computergenerated screen and Lambda prints. ‘It is great to see new techniques available that allow artists to realise their ambitions,’ says Cristea. ‘We have to get away from that image of printmaking as a cottage industry with artists hunched over their etching plates.’
The irony is that in the 21st century that is exactly where some of the freshest talent is currently hunched.
Alan Cristea Gallery ‘New Paintings, Prints and Monoprints’, by Gillian Ayres RA (17 May–
16 June; 020 7439 1866; www.alancristea.com). Blackratpress.com holds a four-day ‘street print extravaganza’ (13–16 Sep; 020 7720 5802; www.blackratpress.com) at the Leonard Street Gallery (0207 033 9977; www.tlsg.co.uk). Lazarides (020 3214 0055; www.lazinc.com). Paragon Press Contemporary Art in Print a survey of major print projects, 2001–2006, (020 7370 1200; www.paragonpress.co.uk). Paul Stolper Gallery ‘New Religion’ by Damien Hirst, Palazzo Papafava, Venice (9 June–4 August; 020 7739 6504; www.paulstolper.com). Buy online at ww.picturesonwalls.com.
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