The current exhibition at The National celebrates the diverse history of printing in art
Diversity and depth distinguish the sublime exhibition The Printmaker’s Art: Rembrandt to Rego at The National in Edinburgh. The use of printing in making works of art is explored exquisitely through the wide and wonderful mix of works on display that range in theme, style and age; showcasing the versatility, variety and accessibility of the craft. The affordability and ease of use of the printing process is presented through a vast assortment of visuals as you make your way through the collection in the underground gallery.
There is truly something for everyone: starting with Albrecht Dürer in the 15th century, the exhibition flows seamlessly between Francisco Goya and Andy Warhol while also showing works from contemporary artists such as Tracy Emin and Chris Ofili. Works are drawn from near and far, with prints from the Scottish Eduardo Paolozzi nestled between those from further afield, such as the German Gesenkter Frauenkopf’s powerful image Woman with Bowed Head.
At the point of entry, you are immediately welcomed by prints from world-renowned artists. Picasso’s later-life printing endeavour shows his cubist print Portrait of a Young Girl, after Cranach the Younger, and the same room also houses the remarkable Japanese mountain print Thunderstorm Beneath the Summit by Hokusai. Despite these paintings being completely contrasting in style, they are both engravings, which unites them by technique. This way of organising the collection encourages the viewer to track and trace each particular method and recognise the way in which they have been utilised by different artists, showing differences between cultures and time periods. For example, in the screenprints room, Roy Lichtenstein’s vivid 1965 pop art work Reverie is shown alongside Ciara Phillip’s hand in Calculated Risk, created in 2018.
Accompanying screens, rolling short films from print studios in Glasgow and Edinburgh, offer a demonstration of the processes involved in making certain styles of prints, which is a nice touch. An even more impressive detail is the inclusion of materials used to create the prints on display, which are on loan from the artists’ personal possessions. Tessa Lynch’s lino cut from her Wise Women series is positioned next to the print itself, making you feel like you have an insight into the creative process – something that cannot usually be offered by other artmaking methods, such as painting. Another interesting aspect of the exhibition is the works that show multiple versions of the same print, highlighting the impact the position of the engraved material has in transforming the appearance of the final work.
Coming away from the exhibition, a notable and lasting favourite of mine was Vanessa Bell’s The School Room. The subject of women learning reminded me that printmaking is for all, not just a select few. This particular print shared the everyday urban experience of women in a domestic scene through beautiful soft colours. However, this is not the only work that shares the experience of people – among a range of different themes present throughout, Chris Ofili celebrated Black identity through his print.
Not many exhibitions are as universal as this one, and I think everyone would be able to find a connection with at least one print, no matter their personal taste or background. This impressive selection of works is definitely not one to be missed, so be sure to catch it before the exhibition closes on 25 February.
The Printmaker’s Art: Rembrandt to Rego is on display at the National in Edinburgh until 25 February. Entry is £7 for students or free for Friends.