The Printing Session at Atelier Circulaire

After twenty-five years at the etching press each printing session still captivates me. There is something reassuring about repeating the gestures that have been handed down to me through generations of master printers.

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I learned the fine art and craft of intaglio printing from François-Xavier Marange, maître taille-doucier, master printer. François-Xavier, born in France, printed at Ateliers Leblanc, Lacourière-Frélaut and Maeght, in Paris, and printed for many great names such as Friedlander, Lam, Miró, Tapiès, and Zao Wou-Ki. He is responsible for introducing the traditional method of intaglio printing to Atelier Circulaire in Montreal. He injected a passion for the métier that touched all the artists who worked with him, including myself. Through the years I have also had the chance to print with many other master printers, including Luc Guérin, Pierre Colin, and Alain Piroir, all from France.

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The printing session is a ritual. Each gesture is performed a certain way, and the body memorizes these movements, which over time become as natural as walking. At the press, especially when printing a large edition, this automatism contributes to smooth, technically sound and fast work.

Since spring I have been working on a series of large format collagraph prints on the theme of the dress. Printing large works is challenging, physically exhausting and expensive. They can also be gratifying to create and powerful to look at. Every couple of years I have to indulge in my desire to go big. There is something sensual and inviting about attacking the large cardboard plates that I use to print with.

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In the case of my dresses I wanted to make slightly larger than life-size robes that conjure real bodies, or rather the absence of them. When working big I am physically drawn to my plate in a way that cannot happen when working on a smaller scale. For this series I printed parts of my body directly onto my dress plate to make textural imprints, traces of myself, of actual moments that in the context of my artwork take on the role of fictive dramas that play in the viewers’s imagination–adult footprints running toward an empty womb, reaching arms within a female torso, a naked torso emerging from floral lace.

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Detail from Eye Chart, collagraph, 2010

When I print test proofs of my cardboard plates, the intuitive work that went into creating my plate is brought under the objective scrutiny of my eyes as I examine what my proof reveals to me. These prints are like compasses. They direct me and tell me how to intervene on my plate in order to improve and eventually perfect my print.

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The Hurel 1, that I use to print my dress collagraphs with, was designed by François Xavier. This Cadillac of a press can work magic, however, everything is exaggerated when printing on this monstrous scale. Ordinarily simple tasks such as cutting, wetting, brushing and placing paper become a dance. Turning the press turns into a grueling workout at the gym!

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At the end of my printing session, I wipe my ink off the glass table with vegetable oil and a good dose of elbow grease. No one I know likes this step, but the body complies with this duty that has to be performed meticulously in order to maintain peace with fellow artists at this community printmaking studio. The upside is that while cleaning I can admire the view from our panoramic windows. The setting sun becomes a metaphor for continuity. There is something reassuring about this natural phenomenon. It makes me feel harmonious and alive, which is how I feel when I turn the press.

Talleen Hacikyan

Photos by Celia Vara
Muchas gracias!

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