The 4th IAPA Biennale Symposium Speech Ⅷ Zhang Lian



On November 13, 2022, the two-day academic seminar of “The Fourth IAPA Printmaking Biennale” was concluded in Kunming. The theme of this seminar is “Tomorrow's Printmaking”, exploring the future development of printmaking in the post-pandemic era. Yin Jinan, a well-known art theorist and professor of the Central Academy of Fine Arts,and Guan Yuda, a professor of Yunnan University, co-hosted this seminar. There will be 17 domestic and international guests made keynote speeches, including Joseph Scheer, Alicia Candiai, Peter Bosteels, Zhang Lian, Song Guangzhi, Kong Guoqiao, Yang Feng, etc. This seminar employed a mix of online and offline methods. Some domestic experts will discuss and speak on the spot, providing a brand-new communication and exhibition platform for Chinese and international artists in a special period. They plan the future development of printmaking by gathering printmaking leaders and elites from around the world. This is a speech by  Zhang Lian, Vice president, Hubei Institute of  Fine Arts.




Zhang Lian: Let me begin by thanking the International Academic Printmaking Alliance (IAPA) and Yunnan Arts University (YNAU) for inviting me to attend this symposium and give a speech. Since it is late, I will try to express my views concisely. I would like to talk about printmaking as a “medium” and the expansion of the language of printmaking from the perspective of a screen printing practitioner.

David Hockney said, “I’ve always been interested in printing as a medium through which my work can be known, and it allows me to engage with the public.” This quote generalizes our understanding of printmaking: a medium of creation and dissemination. These are the commonality and manifestation of printmaking. From the history of printmaking, we know it has a close relationship with printing technology and new technologies. Because of that, the types of printmaking are constantly expanded and the boundaries of its existence broken, enabling printmaking to create artworks that meet the trends of our times. Screen printing has a short history, yet rich forms and expressions.


My speech is divided into three parts: first, the characteristics of screen printing; second, the creation of screen printing; third, thoughts on the expansion of printmaking language.

1. The characteristics of screen printing

Screen printing differs from other printings. For example, screen printing language represents more diversity and is easier to combine with digital art. I started to create screen printing artwork in 1996 when I was in Central Academy of Fine Arts that was located in Beijing No.2 Radio Factory. At that time, I tried many new plate-making methods. This is the second screen printing I have created, which uses photographic film for plate making. When printing, I repeatedly used techniques such as multi-color on one plate and gradient color registration, creating a picture rich in colors. By 2001, I have done a lot of experiments and explorations in digital plate making and physical photosensitivity. Professor Xu Bing believes, “Printmakers have understood the performance of materials as an artistic language through repeated processing, which has a close connection with the techniques of contemporary art. This is also the unique advantage of printmakers, and the reason why printmakers can switch between ‘academy training’ and ‘modern’ techniques more easily.” Indeed, printmakers are obsessed with the study of materials. There is a close connection between printmaking and contemporary artistic techniques, which is an important reason why printmakers can switch freely between academy training and modern techniques.




2. The creation of screen printing

2.1 The flexible use of “plate” transforms plate making into a language of creation.

Screen printinghas two key characteristics, one is that it can be printed on only one side, so its printing graphics have no positive and negative relationship with the layout, and the other is that its printing pressure is smaller than that of others, which brings the convenience of color registration and substrate diversity. Professor Zhang Guanghui exactly uses the principle of color registration. He transformed the traditional woodblock watermark technique into mimeograph woodcut printing system. You can take a look at his Existence series, which is from his solo exhibition in Hubei Museum of Art not long ago. In fact, many editioned prints of these three prints are made from the same plate, but their expressions are different. He transformed woodcut printing into a free and painterly means of creation, and solved the disadvantage of small size, so that the prints can have a better display and viewing effect in modern and contemporary art spaces.



The creation of screen printing is more indirect. Other types of prints are made directly on the plate, while screen printing is more about drawing and converting the film, so its expression is richer. Take Cold Dew as an example. In fact, it uses a piece of film to make a plate and overprint repeatedly. This cannot be replaced by hand-painting. In the creation of screen printing, the repeated use of plates and layered plate-making methods have all expanded print language.



2.2 The introduction of digital software: from the initial sketch or image processing, the selection of tones, the use of sub-version, to the expansion of creative techniques.

This is the Residual Fan series I created in 2001, using a combination of hand-painted and digital plate making techniques. The bird is shaped by hand-painted plates, and the city background is created by digital software. The combination of these two methods has achieved very good results. The creation of Disorganized Imagery followed this method again. It makes full use of the unique screen hand painting, photosensitivity and repeated overprinting. It presents the interweaving and contradiction of reality and tradition, forms the cultural network of order and disorder in contemporary cities, and expresses some of my thoughts on urban culture.


Upon the creation of In Memories of Forgetting, I decided to create an authentic and super-clear image of Lu Xun. Therefore, I use digital software to shape and establish characters, and layout arrangement. In the end, the conception has been achieved, and the image of Lu Xun is ready to emerge, with a strong sense of sculpture. When this work was exhibited in Jinling Art Museum, it was considered to be a lithograph, but it was actually screen printing. It shows that digital software has gradually developed from image processing, color tone selection and the application of plate division to the stage of creation method and creative ideas.



Professor Zhou Jirong’s work Uncertain Landscape uses digital technology and traditional plate-making methods, which shows digital technology has now become a means of expression. This is Landscape: Bell Tower we have seen in the exhibition hall. It is more creative than simple photography and becomes more animated and persuasive.



2.3 Converting pixels of digital image into representational elements.

When creating Mirror Landscape series, I used the pattern of traditional Chinese landscape painting for the overall layout, and replaced the media elements such as ink and brush with a large number of copied and superimposed ancient painting theories and popular blogs at that time. Grafting Western classical traditions on symbolic and theoretical traditional Chinese culture leads to a sense of irony. The pixels of digital images are converted into meaningful symbols and become a code to deconstruct the landscape. I hope this will initiate the visitors’ thinking on the transplantation of Chinese and Western culture in consumption era. The creative idea of Post-Pop series seems more obvious. The texts in previous works are transformed into stars, the earliest artificial figure with higher recognition and more popular cultural perception. Through repeated superposition of stars, buildings that already have symbolic significance in the current Chinese culture including Tiananmen Square, Potala Palace, Bird’s Nest, and China National Pavilion of World Expo 2010 Shanghai have been formed. This change brings perspective elements to the cultural level to explore the relationship between cultural symbolism and countries and nations. In One Painting series, stars are used to deconstruct the landscape painting. The star replaces the brush and ink of the landscape. The regular shape is in contrast to the traces of ink. The pixels of digital image are more widely used by artists and have become an important element of modeling expression and there is still a broader space for continuous exploration.





3. Thoughts on the expansion of printmaking language

Since engraved block printing and woodcut emerged in the Sui and Tang Dynasties, Chinese printmaking has enjoyed a splendid history. In the Song Dynasty, the page layout of illustrations lying above of the writings became a norm in the book printing. Later, the marvelous block coloring printing was invented in the Ming Dynasty. All these have contributed to creating brilliant art treasures for the world. To a certain extent, the dissemination of printing technique to the West has promoted the emergence of the Renaissance and influenced the process of world civilization. Lu Xun once said “woodcuts have a decent history.” Looking forward, how printmaking is going to develop in China is a very important task at present. Printmaking is one of indispensable media in creating contemporary art. The core value of printmaking requires us to focus on the current realities of society or the existence of people and root in the fine traditional culture. The fundamentals of current printmaking require us to explore the expanding expression language in printmaking brought by diversified ideologies, and grasp the connotation of the times and the appearance of the picture from a high level.

3.1 The expansion of printing: breaking through the boundaries and limitations of printmaking

In 2017, Liu Chunjie’s work Overwhelmed News, presented in the exhibition themed 3000 Drafts at the Suzhou Museum, is composed of 365 acrylic boxes, and each box contains a piece of old People’s Daily printed with a woodcut of Lu Xun. Placed outdoors, this work is a rather spectacular array of prints. Lashing wind and rain along with baking sunshine make the work change with time. In fact, this temporality and repetition expend the woodblock print into a contemporary art work with the nature of public art that has more artistic dissemination and sense of power.


In the series of Big Test Tube, on the reprinted large test tube of glass texture, partial printing is applied to such symbols as phoenix patterns with Chu cultural characteristics, cranes representing pureness, high ambition and ties of friendship, and chic ladies standing for contemporary urban society and culture. Only the language of screen printing or printmaking can express such mortify conveniently and completely. The constant exploration and application of printing methods, along with the new expression derived from making prints on different media allows prints to play a bigger role in the diversified context of contemporary art, during which audience will overcome the misunderstanding that printmaking equals to traditional hand printing.



3.2Integrating the indirectness of screen printing and the directness of painting

Zhou Jirong's Scene No.1, a work with mixed media, highly integrates the indirectness of screen printing with the directness of painting, exploring on materials and methods. It overcomes the limitations of screen printing and extends to painting with mixed media, a freer direction. Practicing the concept of processing abstract language with mixed media, he employs both printmaking and painting in this work. The direct combination of printmaking and painting is a very nice feature of screen printing, which not only strengthens the essence of artistic creativity, but also constitutes the visual juxtaposition of figuration and abstraction, forming a unique language that presents urban ecology and cultural landscape so as to express individual's experience and perception in it.



The Pine series places the classic Chinese traditional painting schema of pine trees, which symbolize a fine attitude and moral integrity, in a simple linear grid, combining mechanized graphics made by digital plate-making with flexible and casual hand drawing. Visited Numerous Mountains to Make a Draft is inspired by Shi Tao's landscape painting. It is a re-presentation of Shi Tao’s painting by adopting digital technology. In this re-presentation, you will find that the internal structure of this ancient painting shows a visual impact of contemporary art. And by using screen printing, the size of the picture can be infinitely magnified, which can completely shatter our stereotype on printmaking. The integration of the indirectness of printing and the directness of hand painting in screening printing breaks through the boundaries of printmaking and enriches the language expression system of painting.  


3.3 Expanding the boundaries of printing with changes in the substrate

The pressure applied in screen printing is low, thus there are many available substrates to choose, varying in thicknesses and shapes, on which printing process can be carried out. With the development of screen printing technique, there are a wide range of materials that can be used as the substrates in making prints. Arguably, except water and air, everything else can be used as the carrier of printmaking, namely, paper, canvas, ceramics, metal and so on.

My recent Folded series employs layered screen printing technique on the transparent acrylic. Firstly, each work’s front is either printed with classical landscape, cityscape, social hot events or so forth. This one, for instance, is a print of the burned Notre Dame Cathedral. And on the other side, phototelegraph-like dotted patterns are printed. The transparency of the acrylic renders an artistic defamiliarization to the prints. Secondly, adopting hot bending to fold acrylic gives the audience a new visual experience. And more importantly, this kind of folded and distorted visual form pervades the series implying that the object in the image is destroyed by humans. By cleverly using the characteristics of screen making, the Folded series expresses the above-mentioned concepts in a way that surpasses the two-dimensional presentation of the easel painting and ignites people's interest in appreciation and participation.



Screen printing on stainless steel can create the interaction between the audience and the work. The moving crowd can also become a scene in the picture, which is a classic juxtaposition of the traditional pattern and modern people, constituting the illusion of tradition and reality. The change of substrates has expanded the printmaking language.



In short, we should not present printmaking merely as a specific feature. Instead, it should be expressed as a form, perspective, or attitude of contemporary art. Only in this way will printmaking as a medium be given a far-reaching vitality. The expanding printmaking language will also bring new expressions to painting language. Maybe this is how printmaking will embark on a more meaningful and diversified journey to show more possibilities. Thank you, I hereby end my speech.