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What Exactly is Lithography, Anyway?

collage of abstract color lithographs by contemporary Japanese print artists SINODA Toko, SUSUMUEndo and WAKO Shuji, The Tolman Collection of New York artists.
Lithograph Selection - Shinoda, Endo and Wako

Lithography is a technique based on the principle that water and oil will not mix. The artist draws the original image with oil, fat, or wax onto the surface of a smooth metal plate. A chemical solution is then applied over the surface, producing water-receptive areas that will not print and greased image areas that will. The printing surface is kept wet so that an oil-based ink roller can be run across the surface - ink will only stick to the grease-receptive image area. Paper is then placed against the surface and the inked plate is run through a press. That is the definition of the technique, but the three examples by the three different artists referenced, while defined as lithographs, make use of the process in different ways.

New Dimension (1983, ed.25, each sheet 28" x 21")

SHINODA Toko (b.1913) first learned about lithography in 1960 from master printer Arthur Flory, who convinced her that her gestural brush strokes would be best conveyed in that medium. Her collaboration with master printer KIMURA Kihachi (1934-2014) lasted for decades. She would trace the initial design on the surface of the zinc plate, Kimura would print it and then, she would return to the image and add additional colors by hand, effectively rendering each work in the edition an original. (More images, of the artists paintings, here). Since Shinoda-san has not released any lithographs since 2007, I am now concentrating on her wonderful paintings. I have a small stock of Tolman Collection edition lithographs still available, so please contact me directly should you wish to see them.

abstract lithograph in textured blues, gray and silver by contemporary Japanese print artist ENDO Susumu, a Tolman Collection of New York artist.
Space and Space Nature (2017, ed. 75, 15.7" x 23.6")

ENDO Susumu (b.1933) started out as a graphic designer. His first lithographs date from 1979, when he began manipulating photographic images of everyday objects, like pencils, notebooks, and bottles, using a large copy machine. Comfortable with new technology, he switched to working on his computer, downloading photographs, playing around with color combinations and then transferring the completed image to lithographic film that he then prints on to a pre-sensitized aluminum plate. (More images, here).

abstract lithograph in jewel tones on a velvety black background with a window, Japanese motifs and kimono textile by contemporary Japanese print artist WAKO Shuji, a Tolman Collection of New York artist.
Fascination (1996, ed. 45, 26.3" x 18.7")

WAKO Shuji (b.1953) honed his printing skills by studying with renowned printer and professor HARA Takeshi. Eager to ‘display 'the beauty of traditional Japanese motifs through my modern eyes', he presents us with dazzlingly patterned textiles that wouldn’t seem out of place in a classic ukiyo-e print. Juxtaposition with puzzles, Mobius strips, and other mathematical tricks à la MC Escher transport his work to the contemporary realm. Before printing any color, Wako applies gold leaf to the paper, using a binder of animal glue. The gold enhances the jewel-like aspects of his creations. (More images, here).

Suffice it to say that stylistic differences are more important in a limited-edition print than the technique used to create it. Each artist represented above shows technical brilliance and has a unique voice, instantly recognizable through the substance of their work. Though these artists work in the same medium, their use of it to transcribe their vision to paper could not be represented more differently.


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