I have to admit I always do a double take when I see the work of world-renowned artists in a Dundee gallery, so rare are such events. This latest exhibition hopefully heralds of change in this respect. It is the latest exhibition held as part of the V and A at Dundee Project and contains prints by four “modern masters”: Salvador Dali, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
Dali is associated in the minds of most with meticulous oil paintings, but his prints are, by contrast, a mix of collaged posters and simple drawings, showing a more spontaneous side to the artist, although they still exhibit his distinct mixture of the playful and the unsettling. One print, for example, is a combination of geometric shapes in distorted perspective, and distorted figures, one of which has almost comically exaggerated nipples.
Matisse is, like Dali, better known for his paintings, but his prints do not diverge significantly in style from his painted works; the stylised pictures of women, mainly voluptuous female nudes, are similar to many of his paintings, with one notable exception. Matisse is best known for his bold, even garish use of colour, but his prints are monochrome. This absence of colour, together with the simplicity of the work, lends them a restfulness and harmony not found in his paintings.
Diversity was, of course, Picasso’s trademark; he worked across a wide range of media, and was as prolific in print as in any other medium. The prints exhibited here show his range of style, from loose and semi-abstract, to tight and carefully drawn work. They demonstrate his mastery of not only the image but also of draftsmanship, something which can be overlooked in his more overtly modernist work.
Undoubtedly the most iconic art in the exhibition is that of Warhol. Warhol favoured printing for its lack of a “handmade” appearance and its reproducibility, both things that many artists find problematic. Screen-printing gave him the flat, block colours of the commercial image, which he appropriated into a fine art context. The exhibition features three variations of his Marilyn Munro prints, which are perhaps as famous as the actress herself and are probably Warhol’s most iconic pieces.
As well as showcasing some of the greatest artistic talent of the twentieth century, this exhibition gives some indication of the role and evolution of print as an artist’s medium. Print requires a similar set of skills to painting and drawing, and so is easily adopted as a secondary medium through which the artist can expand their creative scope; for Dali, Matisse and Picasso it provided a fresh avenue down which to take their ideas but for Warhol it allowed him to bridge the gap between the world of mass-media and that of fine art, being a medium employed by both. One of the conclusions to be drawn from this exhibitions is that whilst the others experimented with the medium, Warhol elevated print from its secondary and semi-commercial status, and transformed it into a powerful medium in its own right.