Swan Engravings

I did not like the Swan Engravings at first—critics talk about rich blacks, but I just saw a dull all-over gray, because I really don’t like that wiped-plate look so much appreciated by intaglio printers. But…having taken a longer and a closer look, I now can’t get enough of them. They are made by mounting leftover metal plates on a plywood backing, and printed in one run, some areas in relief, others in intaglio, with spontaneous orchestration of areas and intense compression of forms. The knotted swirls in the upper right corner of this one are drawn with tusche resist—direct realization of a good formal idea very tightly packed into its space. As it turns out, each of the pieces assembled for one of the Swan Engravings,

Frank Stella, Swan Engraving VII 1982

Frank Stella, Swan Engraving VII 1982

whether relief or intaglio, had to be wiped separately, and to a very particular degree. According to one account “Half a day of shop time was entailed in the inking of of a single Swan plate. After each impression was pulled, the plate was then cleared of ink and prepared once again.” They also required custom made paper, since ordinary paper would not be sensitive enough to pick up the ink. Here is another image, with better

Frank Stella, Swan Engraving II 1982

Frank Stella, Swan Engraving II 1982

nuances of black. I’ve even come to like the color of these pieces.

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