Richard Serra’s prints series were begun in the midst of an immensely productive period for the artist’s sculptural practice in the early 1970s—but his decision to turn his attention to editioned prints proved inspired. Working like a "locomotive" Serra's collaborative energy and persuasive personality challenged the master printers at Gemini G.E.L. to invent entirely new techniques. The results were startling. Labor-intensive and highly physical, Serra had ushered in a new type of printing, one that demanded new technical expertise and produced unique variations on each individual edition.

Richard Serra, Junction #7 & 9, 2010, Etchings

Richard Serra’s prints series Junction is available to buy now on fineartmultiple, please click here.

Serra's use of oilstick printing was a revelation on a par with his discovery of weathered steel for his sculptures. A dense oil-based substance composed of pigment and melted wax, oilstick ink created a surface that both absorbed and reflected light. The process required an unprecedented amount of ink and oilstick had to be pounded into position as the artist demonstrates in the image by Sidney Felsen pictured above. It was hugely laborious process to use the small oilsticks for Serra’s prints, but he and the printers discovered a means of speeding up the work by melting down multiple oilsticks and using linseed oil to achieve the desired viscosity. The mixture was then added to pans and once cooled could be lifted by hand and then pushed through a mesh screen. Due to the thickness of the material, each oilstick layer would have to be dried for between one and two weeks before the next layer was added. Each resultant print was unique and possessed distinctive smudge marks, oil stains, and bleeding. Serra had found his printing medium and had breathed new life into the etching tradition.

Sidney Felsen, one of the founders of Gemini G.E.L., has often spoken about Serra's physical approach to printmaking—caring only about making an "image with texture", the artist imbued his works with a profound sense of solemnity. Much like his sculptures, Serra's print series Ballast and Junction stand for themselves, they do not act as vehicles for the artist's emotional language. Ballast especially is inscrutable in its somber materiality, a harnessing of that same anonymity so evident in his massive steel works.

Richard Serra, Ballast #I, II, III, 2010, Etchings

Richard Serra’s prints series Ballast is available to buy now on fineartmultiple, please click here.

By Duncan Ballantyn-Way — Senior Editor