A Day's Work, No More

Recently been reading a catalogue raisonné of Universal Limited Art Editions. Tatyana and Maurice Grosman were Russian emigres whose studio in New York helped spark a mid-20th century resurgence in printmaking among American artists. The catalogue's introductory essay includes a quote from Grosman that struck a chord:

"I never go over to a second day for printing an edition. We do as much as we can in one day; after that the printer's touch is different - everything changes...Because the next day to start, he would have been copying the emotions of the first day. So it becomes something mechanical..." (p. 34)

There are a number of related reasons HM has, with only a few exceptions, traditionally kept editions to no more than 50 copies. One of the main reasons is the satisfaction that comes from completing a run in one day. That side of the sheet is a work of a single encounter. To continue on a second day is, as Tatyana said, to attempt to copy what was already achieved. There are more practical concerns, like how long you can keep a sheet damp, but the thought of waking up to do the same thing you did the day before is not inspiring. There's no point in doing this if you aren't excited to get back to work each morning.

(Another reason for the upper edition limit is simply how many impressions you can reasonably pull in a day. For the recent Sunblind Highway, with an edition of 100 copies, I printed 125 sheets, to allow for wastage. Setting up the new formes each morning took about an hour, and then there was about six to seven hours of printing. Printing on a handpress is a physical endeavour, and with each sheet taking three days to work off [inner forme, outer forme, then second color on both sides], you need a day's rest.)

In addition to prints ULAE produced a handful of artist's books (in the best sense of that ambiguous phrase), the most famous being Robert Motherwell's A la pintura. The catalogue seems to include reproductions of the entire book, which is interesting because it doesn't appear to have been produced in facsimile anywhere else. I could be incorrect about that, but there certainly isn't a true facsimile listed online. Tatanya did not approve of reproductions, so maybe that's why. She was disdainful of offset printing, but eventually relented to indulge artists interested in exploring its creative potential, including Jim Dine and Jasper Johns.

The chapter on Robert Motherwell's work at ULAE ends with a quote from Tatyana praising Octavio Paz's poem “The Skin of the World, The Sound of the World,” which was dedicated to the artist. "We have to discuss ideas how to publish it" she said, but by that time Maurice was dead and she was in declining health. The idea must have appealed to Motherwell, because the project came together a decade later, from the Limited Editions Club. The book - which consisted of very large unsewn sheets - didn't enjoy the same acclaim as A la pintura, but then 750 copies was a much bigger edition than Tatyana would ever have considered.

Just to bring everything back to HM, the Paz/Motherwell book plays a significant role in the history we issued last year of "the infamous disappearing book," Agrippa.


Sarah Creighton sent this photo of cases for the regular edition of XI LXIVmos. Copies are being shipped out this week.