Lithography is a printing process invented in 1798 by Aloys Senefelder. Being only superficially similar to the mass mechanical printing process confusingly called “process lithography”, it requires the direct participation of the artist at essentially every step. This challenging medium has been employed by virtually all great artists of the ages, including Picasso, Miro, Goya, and Toulouse Lautrec.
In summary, here’s how Parks makes an original lithograph. First, he uses a grease pencil, air brush, or other implement to hand draw an image on mylar, which he then transfers to a ball grained aluminum plate. The plate acts essentially as a black-and-white version of only one of the colors that will appear in the lithograph. A color corresponding to the plate is chosen by Parks, and inks are hand-mixed by a skilled pressman. Through collaboration of the artist and pressman, precise color affects are arrived at using essentially the same care and creative freedom a painter uses when mixing paints.
Using a press, Parks and Geoff apply the color to its plate. The part of the plate Parks has drawn on attracts and holds the greasy ink, whereas the part he hasn’t drawn on repels the ink and remains dry. Again with the help of a press, the ink is transferred from the plate to a piece of paper, and the visual quality produced by the transfer is critically evaluated. Based on the outcome of this first step, another mylar sheet is hand-drawn, a second aluminum plate is made, the ink color is carefully chosen, and it is once again applied to the paper with the press. Because the process is somewhat unpredictable, it amounts to a game of reacting, a “Ping-Pong” match involving the artist, the pressman, and the idiosyncrasies of the lithographic process. Each step, and the results produced by each plate, begin to accumulate as the process is repeated, so the artist has to anticipate and visualize not only how each plate will look when printed in color ink on paper, but also how the cumulative effects from all the colors will interact and present themselves on the paper. In essence, this complicated and beautiful process converts paper and ink into a limited edition of originals, “original” because in fact there are no other versions of each piece that preexist the lithographs themselves. After all the originals are made, the pressman carefully records the colors of inks used at each step, but the plates are destroyed so it is impossible to make more originals. Always immersing himself in the process, Parks emerges from the lithography studio feeling elated after having had an experience that draws him back into the studio again and again.
The lithograph shown above, “Live Bait”, took Parks about 120 hours to draw the plates, 24 in all. Two hundred and seventy-five originals (plus proofs) were crafted and the plates were destroyed. These originals are considerably more valuable than, for example, “posters” made from a conventional offset press, with the visual qualities of the original lithographs winning out hands down. If you look closely at an original lithograph with a magnifying glass, you will see many irregularly shaped and sometimes bizarrely colored ink dots that might remind you of the way a field of wild flowers looks scattered wanton in a mountain meadow. That’s the work of an artist. On the other hand, if you do the same with a poster produced on an offset press, you will see a monotonous pattern of regularly shaped dots all exactly the same size. That’s the work of a commercial printing press.
There are twenty four of Parks’ lithographs shown on our store section for sale. Click on each image to see a larger version. Keep in mind that what you are looking at now over the web is a seriously compromised rendition of the originals- the web only displays 200 or so colors, and a typical Parks Reece lithograph has several thousand colors when you consider that inks interact on paper in complex ways. All of Parks’ original lithographs are on 100% cotton coventry -290 grams using ball grained aluminum plates and handschy ink. Limited edition of 275 numbered pieces, 25 artist’s proofs, 5 printer’s proofs, and in a few cases 25 publisher’s proofs.
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