Sometimes a single image just won't do. Printmakers often work in a series, enabling them to literally explore variations with their subject matter and technique.
The serial format is especially appropriate for printmakers who are visually interpreting Biblical or other literary source material. Their pictorial storytelling conveys key scenes and themes in a viewer-friendly way.
One of the great printmakers of all time, the German artist
Durer was surely motivated by the belief common in his era that the year 1500 might mark the end of the world, because reaching that round number carried symbolic weight for a culture that felt it had been around for a long time and might be ready to meet its maker.
The emotional urgency of Durer's religious imagery is not at the expense of the detail he expended on everything from the densely incised lines in the figures' garments to the crowding together of figures engaged in end-of-the-world battles.
Another religious story gets told in the English artist
Stylistically, Martin favors nocturnal scenes set in ominous caverns and landscapes. The prevailing dense black tones are strategically broken by sharply pinpointed beams of light that draw your eyes to Satan and other players in this moral drama.
Dark imagery serves a more secular purpose in the 16 etchings that collectively make up the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi's 1761 series "Imaginary Prisons." These architectural fantasies depict enormous interior spaces so dimly lit that you find yourself trying to make out classical building features within this murky space.
Moving to outdoor scenes, a mid-18th-century series of 31 etchings by the Italian artist Canaletto, "Views, Some Based on Real Places, Some Imagined," is notable for how the artist provides the same degree of realistic detail to both the actual scenes and the made-up ones. Avoiding the obvious landmarks in a city such as Venice, Canaletto instead offers glimpses of ordinary buildings and views that one would be more likely to see on one's daily rounds.
Besides serving literary and landscape purposes, print series are ideally suited to serve the needs of design itself. The Flemish artist Hans Collaert did a series of 10 engravings in 1581, "Design for Pendants," whose ornamental patterns were used by goldsmiths looking for jewelry designs.
Just as Collaert had pragmatic reasons for exploring variations in a pattern, other artists also wanted to explore the practical possibilities of patterning.
The 20th-century French artist Sonia Delaunay is represented by an eye-popping 1930 series titled "Compositions, Colors, Ideas," which served as the inspiration for wallpaper and fabric designs. This gridded installation on the museum wall features 40 color stencils whose juxtaposed abstract patterns and assertive colors are so festive that it's easy to see how they would give ideas to modern-minded interior designers.
Moving closer to the present, the American artist
Ruscha's sources include axle grease, caviar, chocolate syrup, coffee and, yes, squid ink. Not only didn't the world end in Durer's day, but it has gone on to produce Ruscha's weird recipes.