In this talk, Darren van der Merwe of londonprintstudio, discusses gravure and contemporary interest in historical print techniques. Why are artists so inspired by traditional techniques? As traditional print co-ordinator in one of London’s leading studios, Darren works in both photopolymer and traditional dust-grain copperplate gravure. He compares and contrasts the two techniques both in their historical development and their contemporary application.
The talk co-incides with londonprintstudio’s Cornelia Parker print exhibition. Her print series ‘One Day this Glass Will Break’ uses a contemporary version of the photogravure process to explore the physical possibilities of found and everyday objects. Influenced by William Fox Talbot’s first photographic images, everyday objects were placed directly onto the photographic plate, exposing them to ultra violet light and resulting in a photographic positive. The objects – a cup, a lightbulb, a candlestick, and a soup tureen – become shadows of their former selves, scorched or burned into the paper, with dramatic effects. Parker‘s interest in gravure reflects a very contemporary interest in traditional techniques and their impact.
Cornelia Parker’s prints were created by using photopolymer, a contemporary technique in which londonprintstudio’s Darren van der Merwe is expert. Fascinated by unusual and historical print techniques, he has been experimenting with both photo polymer and traditional gravure, comparing and contrasting their uses and effects.
Traditional dust-grain copperplate gravure or heliogravure is an intaglio etching technique first patented by William Fox Talbot in 1852 and further developed by Karl Klič in 1879. It is one of the few true continuous tone printing processes in which a photographic positive is exposed onto a sensitized gelatin tissue. The tissue is developed and adhered to a copper plate, dusted with fine resin powder and etched in a series carefully timed and controlled ferric chloride baths. The plates are then hand inked and printed in the same fashion as an etching plate. The prints display a very finely rendered continuous tone and detail, which is very difficult to achieve with traditional etching techniques.