What is a silkscreen print?

A silkscreen is produced by printing a design through a mesh screen. A stencil impermeable to ink is applied to the screen so that when the ink is wiped across it, only the areas not covered by the stencil are printed. A form of stencil printing, silkscreens are printed one color at a time, with multicolored prints requiring multiple screens.

This manual masking technique allows an incredibly creative way of working and has been attractive to a breadth of artists since it was first developed in 1910. It was originally used by American sign painters and silk was used as the screen material. This was later replaced with synthetic materials such as polyester mesh.

In the 1930s, the first artistic silkscreen prints were shown in exhibitions. Improvements in the area of printing ink, stencil production and mechanical engineering reinvigorated the technology in the postwar period. It was in the 1960s and 70s that the silkscreen technique reached its peak popularity thanks to the Pop Art and Op Art movements. Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Robert Rauschenberg and Tom Wesselmann are the most iconic artists associated with the technique. Thanks to the high flexibility of the process and the reliablility of the ink, it continued and continues to be used by artists such as John Baldessari, Bridget Riley and Shepard Fairey.

See examples of silkscreen prints in artworks such as Gavin Turk’s Gavara Reversed, 2004, Damien Hirst’s The Cure - Powder Pink/Lollypop Red/Golden Yellow, 2014, or Daniel Richter’s Imagine This, 2016.

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