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Serigraphy, Celebrities, and Joe Petro III

(March 2004) posted on Thu Mar 11, 2004

We revisit Kentucky printmaker Joe Petro III, a talented artist whose screen-printing skills have attracted attention from a wide variety of personalities.

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By Ed Newman

Joe Petro got interested in screen printing back in high school. The son of an artist, Petro liked the idea of printmaking and producing multiples copies of a design. In addition to screen printing, he tried various kinds of etching--intaglio, engraving, and aquatint--but he found that etching acids were too difficult to work with. "The process wasn't as free form as screen printing," explains Petro. "You can't get the color and the blend variation." Eventually screen printing won his heart, and for Petro, it became a way of life. In his early career as a serigrapher, his biggest obstacle was the lack of a real studio. "I originally started printing in the bathroom, then moved to the kitchen, then to the living room," he says in an unhurried baritone voice. "Drying racks were originally a couch."

In 1980, Petro opened his first studio in downtown Lexington, KY. "My studio was like 16 x 16 ft, and I had it for 15 years," he says. "It was basically a 4 x 8-ft. print table in the middle of a room with drying racks behind me." Today, he enjoys a more spacious 30 x 50-ft. area with a 17-ft ceiling in a studio custom-built to his specifications.

Petro's process

Joe Petro uses the word "caveman" to describe his approach to serigraphy. What he means is that rather than using high-tech equipment to produce photographic separations, he favors the more manual methods of hand drawing positives and overlaying colors as he prints.

Generally, Petro starts out with a line drawing of a design (Figure 2). To form positives, he traces elements from the original onto clear acetate using opaque ink or lithographic blockout solution (for large areas of coverage, he occasionally uses hand-cut Rubylith film). To maintain control over color-to-color registration, Petro works on one image element at a time and builds the separations for each element progressively. "I keep overlaying the piece and then just start printing," he says.


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