Ed Hamilton was always interested in art because his mother was an artist. He took art classes while attending the University of Arizona.
“I liked the printmaking classes so much more than anything else, so I decided to specialize in that,” he says.
It wasn’t just any kind of printing that held Ed’s interest, but lithograph printing, which produces limited editions.
There are various procedures in printmaking, and his favorite at that time was intaglio (Italian for cut in or carving) printing, where the image is printed from a recessed design incised or etched into the surface of a plate — copper in Ed’s case.
In intaglio printing, ink is forced into this incised or etched image, the surface of the plate is wiped clean and a print is created when the plate and paper come together under pressure through a press.
After Ed moved to Venice in 1968 he was introduced to Ed Ruscha and a decades-long collaboration, which is still in existence, started. Ruscha, an icon in the later Pop Art movement, was then making prints at the Tamarind Lithography Workshop, known as TLW, in Hollywood and introduced Hamilton to June Wayne, the workshop’s director.
June established TLW in 1960 as a means to “rescue” the dying art of lithography. “The printers who went there were encouraged to open up their own shops and that’s why lithography is still around,” says Hamilton. He got his training and became a Tamarind Master Printer.
Hamilton worked at several places, including Cirrus Editions, before opening up his own shop with collaborator Ruscha in 1990 on Abbot Kinney Boulevard. It is in this building with a nondescript exterior that various art styles unfold behind the walls — lyrical, graphic, aggressive, austere, free-wheeling, unsettling — from artists Ann Thornycroft, Ed Moses, Alexis Smith, Peter Lodato, Joe Goode, George Herms, Raymond Pettibon and, of course, Ruscha, to name a few.
“Ed Hamilton is the premier master printer of traditional lithography,” says Ruscha. “He is a magician with the medium.”
Mark Licari is a younger artist who creates large-scale works of art that depict familiar objects turning into anthropomorphic machinery. An example is “Portrait of Ed as a Squid,” painted on the studio door and meandering into a corner where there is a water heater. The water heater becomes part of the imagery when the pipes are extended onto the wall and even an electric outlet is added.
A working relationship between Ed and the artists is vital. “It’s necessary to know what the artist wants — knowing about their art, what it is that is important to them and translating what they want into a print, he says.”
Ed, himself, is an artist who specializes in the art of lithography.
“Printers are in a unique situation among artists, since our job is to produce art for another artist,” he says. “As a collaborator, I am required to sublimate myself and to get into another artist’s mind and, insofar as is possible, to see things from that artist’s point of view.”
Lithographs are printed on special paper from France and Japan using inks that are formulated to be colorfast.
“What you don’t want to do is put a print in direct sunlight because it will fade even with the best inks,” says Ed. “It also affects the paper. We try to do everything we can to make sure that these prints will survive in the same way that they were printed.”
Preservation also includes the framing. Conservation framing takes into consideration maintenance and protection using materials and procedures that will have no adverse effects on the works of art.
The press equipment hasn’t changed a lot in several centuries. The first printing press with movable type was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany in 1442. The art of lithography (using stone) was invented by Alois Senefelder in Austria in 1798.
The press that Ed uses is based on a German press and “is pretty much the same as when lithography was first invented except that it’s electric,” he says.
An aspect of printmaking that has changed in recent years is the use of digital processing. “I think there’s always been a lot of different ways of making prints and posters,” says Ed. “I don’t have anything against digital prints. I just think it’s necessary to give an artist a choice about different sorts of prints they can do.”
Digital prints are sometimes referred to giclÈe (spurt or spray in French) where images are scanned and digitally stored in a computer and then printed on an ink-jet printer, resulting in high-quality reproductions.
“It’s a fancy name for what it is,” says Ed. “Collectors aren’t always aware of what they are buying. Sometimes these prints are very expensive. So, they’re paying a lot of money for something that they don’t know anything about.”
All of Ed’s prints are documented.
“June Wayne started that at Tamarind by providing documentation for every print and setting the standard,” he says.
The statement of particulars includes name of artist, title, date, its own number, size and description of how it was made.
Every print is signed and, in addition to its individual number, has the total number of prints made.
Hamilton Press publishes fine art lithographs by selected artists and it is also available for contract publishing by galleries, organization and individual artists. There is an adjoining gallery that is open by appointment to showcase the art of the lithograph and the talent of the artists who have adapted so well to the medium.
Check out the Web site, www.hamiltonpressgallery.com for more information.