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Gary Lichtenstein: Printing as Artistic Collaboration

Written by J. Scott Orr, Photography by Daryl-Ann Saunders and courtesy of Gary Lichtenstein

In 1978, Jimmy Carter was president, punk rock was in its ascendency, graffiti art was in its nascency, and San Francisco artist Gary Lichtenstein bought a silkscreen press.

It was made by Medalist Equipment and its purchase was a transitional moment for the young artist, who at the time already had honed his printing bona fides working with San Francisco rock ‘n’ roll poster making master Robert Fried. Nicknamed the Little Volkswagen because of its size and the fact that it had wheels, the press would become Lichtenstein’s persistent companion, relocating with him first to a barn in Connecticut and ultimately to an ample space in Mana Contemporary cultural center in Jersey City.

It is there that Lichtenstein works his magic, the silkscreen printing collaborations that turn the work of contemporary artists into brilliant, new creations that are alive with otherwise unattainable color, depth, and soul. Now, more and more, street artists are turning to Lichtenstein for help in making the transition from the streets to the galleries.

Photo by Daryl-Ann Saunders

“For me, working with Gary was a game changer.” – Al Diaz

“For me, working with Gary was a game changer,” said street art legend Al Diaz, whose series of silk-screened subway lettering pieces were printed by Lichtenstein. “When you work with a person who brings so much energy and experience to the table, it is a true collaboration. He makes the print an art piece in itself, not just a representation of an art piece.”

Lichtenstein also made striking black-and-white prints with street artist Lecrue Eyebrows. “Mine were just two colors, so at first I was thinking what can we do to make just two colors pop? Gary and I worked together six or eight times to get it right. I’ve never seen prints like this; I was taken aback when I saw them for the first time. With Gary, it’s not just like someone printing my art, it’s a collaboration,” he said.