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Axellence in Fine Art

(May 2006) posted on Thu May 11, 2006

Discover how Axelle Fine Arts approaches the printmaking process and why it continues to rely on traditional methods.

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By Andy MacDougall

What is driving the interest in screen printing?
As I said earlier, the students are still very interested in printmaking programs. My class at Parsons fills up as soon as they post it, and there is always a wait list. Right now, screen printing is very hot. Part of the interest is a reaction to the cleanness and predictability of digital printmaking. Students want rougher images that show the work of the hand. I've had students make screen-printed catalogs of misprinted logos just to later scan in a computer to get that feel. There also is a lot of interest in one-of-a-kind printed and embroidered clothing. My students are nearly all adept at Photoshop and Illustrator, and they like that they can compose at home all of their layers, come to class, and get a poster, T-shirt, and bag all from the same screens.

What’s your take on screen-printing/graphic arts education today? What can be done by the screen-printing industry to make it better? It is my experience that there are a lot of dedicated teachers doing an excellent job with very little equipment. When I learned screen printing, all we had was a table with hinges and a sink. That was it. No exposure system at all, and certainly no computers. All of our stencils were directly painted on the screen or we utilized cut paper as a resist. There is still a substantial amount of school shops out there with little or no equipment. I think it's important for the screen-printing industry to know that there is a large, untapped, creative force out there that is not necessarily benefiting from the industry's knowledge. I make sure that any used equipment that I come across gets a chance at ending up in a school. I also open up the shop for classes to tour, and I try to answer teachers’ technical questions when they come my way.

Where do you see screen-printing/printmaking (fine art or commercial) education going in the future? Most art departments now have a multimedia department, where 20 years ago that was not the case. Printmaking is now being revitalized as an important component of these programs. The same could be true with graphic-design and textile programs. The Parsons print shop, run by Bill Phipps, has embraced the entire school. It is not just for the fine-art department. I think this is an important consideration for academic print shops. There is strength in numbers.


Luther Davis, who was born in Nuremberg, Germany and raised in Cleveland, OH, received a BA from Grinnell College in Iowa and an MFA from Ohio State University. He arrived in New York with an etching press in the back of a Ryder truck but was quickly blown away by the possibilities of the screen-printing process and its adaptability when he landed a job at Noblet Serigraphie.

Still excited by the process after more than 10 years and many challenges and changes, he and his staff of six use a work model where they rotate through all of the production jobs in the shop instead of being stuck in a particular position. He believes this keeps everyone on top of things and fresh. His fellow workers all have college degrees, but only two came with actual screen-printing experience. With backgrounds that range from puppet building to paper restoration, they all share one attribute: a love of art and the creative process. Many of them, including Davis, produce their own art prints, and the studio allows them to use the equipment and facility after hours.
One of the things that sets Luther apart from his peers in the printing world is the fact he finds time to teach all levels of screen printing at Parsons School of Design. His courses are extremely popular and are filled the minute they are posted.


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