Forgotten Histories

The Collotype print, past and present

Curated by Dr Paul Thirkell

Preview and opening lecture, Tuesday 24 January 2006
Exhibition, Wednesday 25 January to Thursday 23 February 2006

Exhibition: 25 January to 23 February 2006

This exhibition aims to reveal the extraordinary quality and scope of collotype printing (a technique that holds a distinguished place in print history as one of the first photomechanical printing processes invented).

Although collotype has never been produced on the same industrial scale as techniques such as the ubiquitous offset lithography, it was consistently employed on a relatively small scale throughout most of the twentieth century as a specialist medium for the highest quality book illustrations and single-sheet fine art reproductions.

Although its photographically accurate printing characteristics and exceptional colour qualities remain (even in the digital age) largely unparalleled, its economic viability was gradually eroded during the latter half of the twentieth century by faster and cheaper methods of print. Where, up until the 1970s, there was an active network of collotype ateliers scattered throughout England, Europe, America and Japan, there are now only a handful of professional studios left worldwide.

This exhibition traces some of the techniques use from the late nineteenth century to the present, featuring work from some of the long lost companies such as the renowned Cotswold Collotype Company, Waterlows and Jaffe. Also featured is a rare and intriguing round-up of contemporary artists? original prints from the world?s last surviving studios.

Exhibition preview & opening lecture: 24 January

We begin in the Exhibition Room with a preview of the exhibition from 5.30pm before moving upstairs to the Bridewell Hall for the accompanying lecture at 7.00pm.

Our speaker, Dr Paul Thirkell, is a Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Fine Print Research, University of the West of England. One of Thirkell?s main areas of research is the reassessment (especially in fine art printmaking terms) of high quality nineteenth century industrial printing techniques. Besides working to reconstitute valuable lost processes, his research has also led to the integration of digital imaging techniques to create unique contemporary hybrids.

Thirkell?s principal area of exploration has been through the collotype process, ultimately bringing him into contact with what threatens to be the last generation of professional master collotype printers. To foster an international dialogue and exchange of knowledge at this crucial point in collotype history, Thirkell hosted the second international collotype conference in Bristol. Taking place early in 2005, it brought together representatives from studios in Italy, Japan, the USA and the UK to share their insights. He also runs a small collotype studio at the Centre for Fine Print Research and has recently published a portfolio of ten artists? works that explore the dichotomy between original and reproduction in fine art print.

Vermeer study

Vermeer Study (A Great Story Out of the Corner of a Small Room). 12-colour collotype by Yasumasa Morimura, 400×500 mm. Printed by the Benrido Collotype Company, Kyoto Japan. Copyright © The artist 2005

Seven colour collotype by Paul Thirkell

Monument, Seven-colour collotype by Paul Thirkell. 300×400mm

Wendezeit ? Zeitenwende by Frieder Heinze

Frieder Heinze: ‘Wendezeit ? Zeitenwende’, Colour collotype 560×750mm. Leipzig 1994

Printing and beyond