Unexpected, wild, flowing, vibrant colours so drenched in their shades they were almost violent. The marks writhing, dancing, growing across the paper. It was heart stopping’… I wrote these words when I first saw Oisin’s work in his studio, and as I look at the Artists proof in front of me now... I am filled with the same excitement and energy.
What do you do when something finite is created that everyone wants to share in or own? When Connolly showed Oisin Byrnes’ beautiful, heart stopping ‘Cut Flowers’ in the summer of 2021, we were overwhelmed by the response. It became a regular refrain at the shop, that this particular work had sold and that ‘we are so sorry and if we hear about one becoming available we will of course let you know’. They seemed to speak to so many people: as Wayne Koestenbaum wrote of the Cut Flowers, “we might all find it practical to drink deep of a bright chromatic surge of optimism.”
Oisin and I had discussed the merit of making a print; how would it translate as a work on paper, would it affect his practice, could he create the same vibrancy and freedom on a screen as when he worked directly onto paper with pastels? Where would he find a screen-printing studio with the facilities to make work to this impressive scale and quality? It would mean discovering the purpose in such a practice and understanding why other artists have used and loved this medium from Hockney and Blake to Warhol and Rauschenberg.
Eighteen months later Oisin rang me and said, “I’ve done it – I have found the right screen printer and I have made my first screen print of the flowers and I want to show you.”
Byrne worked closely with Bob Saich at Advanced Graphics, the only remaining screen-printing studio in the UK that still works in oil based screens. They have produced artist prints for, amongst others, Craigie Aitkinson, Michael Craig Martin, Patrick Caulfield. The resulting screen print was proofed and developed with Byrne over many months, and is hand printed with eight gigantic silkscreens. Each print is made up of fourteen separate hand printings: many colours have been printed more than once to produce the vivid colour these works require, in the words of the artist “to sing”.
I thought it might be of interest to give some background to this particular art form and especially its history. Originating in China during the Song era as a means of transferring designs onto fabrics, it then passed to Japan where a more recognizable form of screen printing was developed as a simple stencilling technique and then to Europe in the 18th century when the brushes were replaced by silk screens stretched over a frame to support the stencils. Indeed, the word serigraphy, or screen printing, comes from the Latin and Greek, to write on silk. But it wasn’t until the 1960s Pop Art and Warhol when the true face and impact of screen printing emerged. Artists such as David Hockney, Eduardo Paolozzi, Peter Blake, Andy Warhol and Rauschenberg used screen printing as an integral part of their practice.
No other printing technique produces higher fidelity results with more vibrant colour and sharper, well defined line and detail. The process involves ink being squeegeed through the silkscreen onto the paper below - where areas that are not part of the image are blocked out. A separate screen is produced for each colour in the image. The artist is always present at the printing and the mixing of the colours. And it is for all these reasons that the value of a silk screen print, especially a limited, signed edition can produce such results as Warhol’s 1963 screen print of Eight Elvises which sold for $100 million back in 2008.
When the demand is so great, and the size of the works are large … the ability to create a series of valuable, vibrant, limited edition screen prints of a particular body of work, is unquestionable. For the artist, the screening process is an intensely committed, physically engaging experience with creative decisions being made constantly at this time too. And especially where colour is so intrinsic to the work, the silkscreen, allows for a greater thickness of ink than any other printing technique.
It’s a wondrous piece the same size as the original square flower works, hand printed as a signed limited edition of 80. He has also produced a smaller size in a signed edition of 80, that hold the same intensity and extravagance as the bigger works. And there is now talk of producing another five, to form a series of six works … a collection of the Cut Flowers first shown last summer, upstairs at Connolly.