When one hears the term “etching” one thinks most likely of Rembrandt, Goya or Picasso, highly acclaimed masters of the intaglio print medium that flourished from the sixteenth–eighteenth centuries and was “revived” in the mid–late nineteenth through the early twentieth century. In an age of digital reproduction, one might think that incising a copper plate and cranking it through a press is outmoded or even obsolete. That’s clearly not the case, as evidenced by the more than 500 prints (mostly etchings) that make up Edition Jacob Samuel. The archives of this Santa Monica-based master printer and publisher were recently acquired jointly by LACMA and the Hammer Museum and are currently on view at the latter through August 29, 2010. More than forty major contemporary artists from all over the world have made etchings with Samuel, including Marina Abramovic, Rebecca Horn, and Jannis Kounellis from Europe, Gabriel Orozco from Mexico, Anish Kapoor from India (based in London), and local artists John Baldessari, Chris Burden, and Andrea Zittel.
In many cases, the artist had never made etchings before. Samuel sees the master printer's role as one of a technician who “translates” the artist’s vision through his knowledge of etching techniques. Indeed the list of techniques in a print by Giuseppe Penone (hard ground etching, soft ground etching, spit bite aquatint, white ground aquatint, and drypoint with chine collé and letterpress), for example, reads like a print glossary. Samuel’s technical skill and innovative spirit allows the artists he works with to expand on their own creative potential. Kounellis, for example, approached the plate as if it were a sculptural object, not a planar surface. Plates were subjected to fingernail scratches, a mallet, chisel, powerdrill, molten lead, and smashed glass, among other unconventional tools and materials. What the Kounellis portfolio and indeed all etchings by Edition Jacob Samuel make clear is that the physical process of etching, from marking up the plate to pressing the paper, is still relevant, perhaps even imperative, for many contemporary artists who choose NOT to just push “print."
Leslie Jones, Associate Curator, Prints and Drawings