|By Carole Deutsch
LAMBERTVILLE, N.J. — A lecture given on May 16 by the celebrated American artist Peter Paone, titled The Rewards and Pitfalls of Collecting Prints, was sponsored by Rago Arts. The talk was part of an auction preview for a May 18 auction that offered an exceptional collection of 19th and 20th century American and European art; including several major prints.
Rago is known for its educational programs and efforts to promote knowledgeable collecting in the field of antiques and modern art.
Paone’s work has been featured in 52, one-person exhibitions in major American cities, as well as in London, Vienna and Germany. Since 1960, his work has joined that of other artists in 60 national and international group exhibitions.
A selected list of public collections in which his paintings, drawings and prints are represented, include The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Victoria and Albert Museum and The British Museum in London, England, The National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress in Washington, DC, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Art Institute of Chicago, The National Academy of Design, Yale University Art Gallery, The Jersey City Museum, The Arkansas Art Center and The National Portrait Gallery.
Paone is listed in Who’s Who in America, Who’s Who in American Art, Archives of American Art and the Smithsonian Institute.
Paone underscored the relevance of printmaking by retelling a story about Paul Gauguin; who in 1889, told Vincent van Gogh that “he had to make lithographs in order to be better known,” because they are multiples in which several images are made from the same plate and can reach a wider audience than a single work of art.
Prints are not copies of paintings; they are works of art within their own forum and not every artist can do a print. Paone’s essential point was, “There are three things to know – multiples, process and identity.”
Multiples are a number of images from the same plate. Multiples create a larger selection for a larger audience. It allows the art to be affordable, but still valuable.
When an impression is taken from a plate, it is given a number. Collectively these numbers are called an edition, which represents the amount of prints in a particular collection. Typically, an edition is limited to between 35 or 50 because the plate starts to wear and the quality of the print is reduced.
While 50 of an original artwork may appear to be a large number, realistically it is quite small considering the magnitude of the world audience. Once the edition is sold out it immediately begins to go up in value.
Process is the journey that starts with the first mark in the stone or wood through to the proofing, stabilization and right down to the signing. It is an ever-changing process that cannot be described; it has to be witnessed.
Identity is the most important aspect to collecting. To become a knowledgeable collector, it is critical to become familiar with each medium of print. The three traditional mediums are woodcuts, lithography and etchings.
Woodcuts were first used in the second century and are the oldest form of printmaking in which a block of wood is cut along the grain and with a design or illustration incised with a knife. “Woodcutting reduces the negative in order to produce the positive,” Paone said. “It is carved with gouges or chisels, on soft wood such as pine or poplar, and when it is printed it is printed in reverse so the artist has to work backward ... few artists are able to achieve this.”
Paone cited an example in which he gave an assignment of producing a print to 18 talented art students. Only two could accomplish the task, and those two were poorly done. In a color woodblock, each color is a different block.
Lithography is the process of printing from a plain surface, such as a smooth limestone, on which the image to be printed is ink-receptive and the blank area ink-repellent. A design is drawn on the limestone with oily inks or crayons and the whole surface is dampened.
The surface is then rolled with printing ink that sticks to the oily drawing, but not to the wet surface of the untouched stone. The stone is 3-5 inches thick in order to sustain the 500 pounds of pressure that is exerted to produce each image.
Etching is the process of making designs or pictures on a metal plate, glass, etc., by the corrosive action of an acid. In addition to the three traditional categories there are several subcategories that include screenprint, monotype, mezzotint, drypoint, serigraph, aquatint and engraving, to name a few.
Paone recommended focusing a collection on a particular category in order to be able to amass as much knowledge possible within that genre. “Beware of a commercial facsimile of a painting that is artist signed,” he advised. “A number of artists signed reproductions of their paintings, the art is worthless and the only value is in the signature itself. In the old masters market, the plates have been repaired so many times they are virtually fakes as they no longer have enough of the original art work to be considered authentic.”
Paone explained the numbers and abbreviations which are found on the bottom margin on the left side of most prints:
•4/50 – The first number is the proof number. The second number is the size of the edition. The first number is meaningless. It is a common misconception that a lower first number indicates the first prints off the plate. The prints are not numbered in the order that they come off the plate.
•Ed 50 – This is an edition size but without numbering.
•A.P. – Artist Proof, 5 percent of the total edition goes to the artist. Many falsely believe that these are the artist’s first-choice prints. They are the allotment that is given to the artist from the publisher, which usually represent 5 percent of the run.
•H.C. – Hors Commerece, a print salesman’s representative sample. There are usually only about five salesman’s samples.
•BAT – Bon A Tier, artist’s approval for the final printing. In reality, this is the only print that can be considered the first print in an edition.
•T.P. – Trial Proof, test for tone and color before edition.
•P.P. – Printers Proof, printers archival copy.
•I.M.P. – “I made the impression,” artist printed the edition. Often an artist will make the impression himself. Directly under his signature, the initials I.M.P. will appear which is usually preceded by the first initial of the last name of the artist.
Many Paone’s prints will appear at an exhibition in October at The Woodmere Art Museum in Philadelphia, Pa.
The Rago Arts May 18 auction that followed the Paone lecture met with strong results. A Vija Celmins (American, born 1938) lithograph, signed and numbered 48/65, that was an untitled depiction of an ocean, 1972, achieved $15,000.
Seventeen offset lithographs with 14 hand-colored by Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), titled Wild Raspberries, 1959, sold for $16,250.
A book of screenprints, Black Book, 1989, by Christopher Wool (American, born 1955) was signed and numbered 102/350, and it realized $8,750.
These prices reflect a 25 percent buyer’s premium.