What is Original Art? Is It a Giclée?

What is Original Art? Is It a Giclée?


An Essay by Catherine Little Bert

Artists have long struggled with making a living. The introduction of printmaking and engraving helped to place multiples on the market and increased the artist’s potential income. However, new media often met with resistance from collectors and museums. Photography for instance, was not initially viewed as fine art but is now one of the hottest art forms in galleries and on the auction market. As technology has advanced in the last few years, the giclee digital printing process has made a dramatic entrance into the art world. A Bert Gallery exhibition and panel discussions on July 19 and August 16 will address the topic, “What is original art? Is it a giclee?”. Gicler is French for “to squirt,” and its derivative, giclée, is an adjective meaning “squirted,” although one frequently hears that it means “sprayed.” Now giclee is being used as a noun—referring to the printing process as well as the print made by that process. Today many galleries are showing and selling giclees. Images are generated from high-resolution digital scans or created on the computer and printed with archival inks onto various surfaces. Many artists feel that this type of printing is the most satisfying replica of their work because the giclee printing process provides better color accuracy than other means of reproduction. It offers unlimited edition size. The question remains for museums, curators, galleries and artists– Is giclee an artistic process?

The Bert Gallery exhibition features color and black-and-white woodcuts, lithographs, photographs and etchings—traditionally accepted multiples. The exhibit shows how introduction of art multiples shaped art history and describes the process for each technique. A remarkable series of woodcuts by Louis Novak (1903-1983) shows the various production stages of a 1940 color woodblock, the “Hallway at the Webb House” in Wethersfield, Connecticut. The finished color print involved the carving and printing of nine blocks. This labor intensive process is often under appreciated and unrecognized by many in today’s art market. Etchings by noted Rhode Islander Arthur Heintzelman (1890-1960) and Lester Hornby (1882-1956) demonstrate the talent of American artists in the medium of etching. Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts, Heintzelman received his early training at the Rhode Island School of Design and later studied and worked in Europe, where French and English critics acclaimed him. Besides being a National Academician, Heintzelman in 1948 received the highest award given an artist in France: The Legion of Honor. He was a precise technician whose etchings were refined studies of children and musicians. His work was collected by most major museums including the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Los Angeles Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Cincinnati Museum and the British Museum. Lester Hornby (1882-1956) was another graduate of RISD who went on to become a noted etcher, lithographer and illustrator. Who’s Who notes, “he was a master etcher in the Whistlerian tradition and an accomplished water colorist.”

On Thursday, July 19 at 6:30pm the talk Fine Art Digital Printmakers will be presented by Susan Fader of Ditto Editions, Marblehead, Mass., a company that creates and promotes giclees. On Thursday, August 16 at 6:30 pm the topic “Giclee in the Art Market” will be addressed by panelists photographer Carmel Vitullo; Erik Gould, artist as well as photographer for the RISD Museum; Richard Benjamin, former Providence Journal photographer known for his photographs of Rhode Island sold exclusively by Picture This Galleries; and Ted Peffer, president of io labs, a Pawtucket printing company. They will attempt to answer the questions “Do giclees have any re-sale value? Will an auction or a museum accept them in their collection?” The exhibition will run through August 24. Bert Gallery, 540 South Water Street, is open Tuesday-Friday from 11am-5pm, Saturdays 12-4 pm or by appointment.