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Photo Based Art


This section is reprints of articles printed elsewhere. Some have been printed in the local Arteast Newletter sent out to Arteast members. Information here is especially useful for artists but is also of interest to the general public as it raises issues connected with art collecting. and conservation.

What is Giclée and Why Should We Care?

At a recent workshop the issue came up of how to tell whether a work for jury was original or a reproduction. The term Giclée came up and some confusion was evident.

Somehow, some people seem to equate the term giclee with reproduction. Giclée (spelled with a capital G and the acute accent) is a high quality ink jet print done on a high end printer, usually an Epson, Canon or HP, with a very high number model (8000 or higher). The archival lightfastness and quality is the best available in the world, and the prints, when done well, are of National Gallery standard. High end Giclée lightfastness ranges from 100 to 200 years. The inks are of the highest quality and there are more colors than normal, usually 10 or 12 instead of the usual 6.The laydown of inks is higher resolution so the end result is sharper and has more detail. So these prints ,usually printed on canvas or fine art papers or metal, etc, are what fine art photographers, and photo based artists prefer, assuming they are serious about their art.. Generally editions are small,(10 to 50) and are done on demand due to the very high cost of having them printed. Given the expense, doing large editions of reproductions would be prohibitive in cost and not economically viable as reproductions would normally be expected to sell at low valuations. Reproductions are generally done on fancy high speed mass printing machines that are high end, NOT the hand pulled one-at-a-time true high end Giclées used for original fine art prints (above). In fact, I suspect that those using the small “g” term giclee (without the accent) are just trying to cash in on the cachet of the term “Giclée”. That is like saying ‘Kleenex’, when one should say ‘facial tissue’. A misuse of a brand name. The appropriate question to determine whether a work is an original or a reproduction might be: “Is this a copy, scan, photograph or duplicate of another medium?” Giclée is merely a standard of quality printing, and does not indicate one way or the other whether a work is original or a reproduction, as it can be used as a means of printing both.

That is where the “Authentication Certificate” comes in, wherein the artist states that the work is original, what the medium is, the number of the edition ,date of print, where the print is an edition, print printed on demand, etc for the Provenance. If the work is in fact a reproduction (from a photo or scan ) of a work of some other medium like oils, water color, drawing, graphics, the Certificate should clearly state that it is a reproduction so the jury/buying public is not duped into thinking the print is something other than what it may seem to be. That Certificate is the artist’s covenant with the public as to the integrity of the work presented, and has legal import. If such a Certificate is false, the artist can be sued accordingly for misrepresentation. That is why I always post such a document on the back of each and every work.

An aside: I showed a photo painting, entitled “Straight Ahead” at an international group show entitled “Contemporary Artists You Should Know”, at Elaine Fleck Gallery, Queen Street West, Toronto, in April,2010. This digital painting, an original Giclée print, is printed on archival fine art rag paper. .

Is It A Reproduction or Is It An Original?

Recently I noted somewhat misguided “definitions” of “original” versus “reproductions” as set out as standards by a west end art group for an upcoming art event. It was obvious they had thought deeply as the rules were somewhat complex and legalized in language. Unfortunately they were somewhat off-base on some points, especially where digital media were concerned. Since Arteast artists are often showing through other venues, the following may be pertinent.

It is time, I think, to set the record straight for once and for all, while making it simple and clear as to how to tell whether a work is an original or a reproduction, especially where digital prints are concerned. Juries have a hard enough time as it is, without having to contend with confusion about such issues. Naturally one wants all works in a show to be original. But as long as some artists may be tempted to pass off reproductions as originals, either deliberately for through confusion about the difference, it is time to clarify.

Very simply, a reproduction results when the end medium to be shown is different than the original medium used by the artist to create the work. This is easiest to understand via example. If a painting (oil, acrylic, guache, water colour, encaustic, etc) or drawing (pastel, ink, pencil, etc) or graphic (wood cut, serigraph, lithograph, intaglio,etc) is photographed or scanned to produce a digital file, which is then printed, that resulting print is a reproduction. It does not matter who makes the print, what kind of machine or printer it is printed with, or what size it is printed, the result is always a reproduction. The important thing here is what was the source of the end product. If it is anything other than a digital file, then we have a reproduction.

That said, there is one exception to the above. If another medium is used as part of the creative process to produce a digital file, then it can be argued that it does not “taint” the creation of an original. For example, say an artist does a pastel drawing specifically to be used (scanned) as part of a digital work (usually as a background or other part of a montage), where that drawing is not usable in any other way on its own, then it is a legitimate part of the creative process and is part of the original.

In olden days (not really so long ago), reproductions were commercial lithographic prints, usually mass produced to sell cheaply. The original was usually a painting (oils, acrylics, etc) which was photographed and separations made in CMYK. The reproductions were printed in large quantities by commercial printing companies who produced posters, greeting cards, calendars and the like from these images. This practice still exists today, though the printing presses are mostly digital, not the old Heidelbergs used before. The reproductions you see in some commercial galleries, and malls are generally this type. A useful clue ,when confused, is price (very low) and size of edition (very high) or no edition (unlimited). For instance, Robert Bateman’s prints are high quality reproductions of his paintings, usually in somewhat large “limited” editions (in his case his “limited edition” reproductions sell for several hundred dollars each, but then his paintings sell for over $20,000)..

Be aware that Revenue Canada considers any edition of reproductions a manufacturing process, and even editions of over 50 of originals are tagged by them as manufacturing (this has tax, business consequences).

OK, so what is an original? Obviously the painting, drawing, or graphic created by the artist using self sourced material (that is, not copying another artist’s work) is original.

Concerning digital work, where the original is the digital file which starts with the artist’s camera either directly or scanned from the artist’s photographic film, even where the file is enhanced or manipulated with software, and /or is montaged, and/or photo-painted, then the end result is always original. Here it makes no difference who does the print: the artist, an assistant, or an artist’s lab, or even a commercial printer, regardless, the print is an original. It matters not whether the print is regular inkjet done on a low end printer, or a Giclée (high end top quality inkjet), or laser or even commercial printing press. Caution however: if using anything other than Giclée printer is used, the inks will fade in a short time by comparison. (See my article on Giclée in the April issue for details)

The west end group referred to above would have us believe that all giclee (note the lack of accent and lower case “g”) prints are reproductions, not originals. Well, given that all Epson Stylus Photo, HP, and many Canon printers that can print paper 13”x19” or larger are automatically Giclée printers, if one were to take their “rule” to heart, one would have to limit oneself to printing on low end printers that only take 8.5”x11” paper! Imagine that!

A reminder, Giclée is defined as: “Giclee comes from French and translated literally means “squirt”, which in this case refers to the process by which the ink is applied to the paper. The nozzles of an inkjet printer spray a pattern of very fine drops onto the paper that later form the picture. The term Giclée connotes an artwork, a photograph or a digitally produced work (printed) on an inkjet printer. The image is generated onto coated, archival artist’s paper using pigmented inks (UV resistant)”. (Quoted from Hahnemühle website) Giclée prints have higher resolution, more longevity of color and Giclee printers can print larger, including on canvas. Just because a printer can do more than one thing, it does not follow that all work from that printer should be deemed not original just because it is possible to print reproductions on it.

The same west end group would also have us believe that if anyone other the artist’s own hands pulls the print, then the result is a reproduction ! You’ve got to be kidding. That would make many artist’s graphic prints reproductions just because an assistant pulled the wood cut/serigraph/intaglio ! Re digital prints, heaven help the artist who is not financially flush enough to afford their own large format printer, which range from $600 to tens of thousands for the large ones that stand on the floor and can print to 48” wide. And heaven forbid that the artist’s own printer should decide to have a Murphy’s Law day and break down just when one has to meet a show deadline, making it necessary to have to resort to a print lab to make that deadline!

You can see how such “rules” can raise havoc with an artist’s creative output. Fortunately at Arteast , saner minds prevail. The above makes the point, though, that knowledge elsewhere may be not up to date and can somewhat curtail an artist’s opportunities to show. Be careful to read all the rules when considering submitting to any given show.

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