Jules Olitski: Printmaking




Note from Jules Olitski to Stephen Long, August 16th, 1989

Dear Stephen,

           You ask what got me into printmaking.  It probably began with a folio of Rembrandt etchings I came upon when I was a kid.  I was stunned.  They were so beautiful.  So the looking to make prints was there, but for a kid in Brooklyn in the early thirties, in a house where art and culture were not exactly prized – it seemed my longing would only be realized in dreams.  I drew a lot with pen and pencil and along the way I did do some linoleum and woodblock printmaking, but somehow wasn’t until I was in my mid thirties that I had access to a press.
           By then I had become chairman of the art department of C.W. Post College (of Long Island University) and being chairman, I would introduce into the curriculum a course on printmaking and I would teach the course.  I would learn how to etch and print. I knew virtually nothing of the craft, but that was the point.  How else could I get a printing press and all the paraphernalia that goes with it? I simply didn’t have the money.  So the college would foot the bill for my education and the students carry the burden of my ignorance. I arranged more or less to stay a step ahead of my students thanks to S.W. Hayert’s “NEW WAYS OF GRAVURE (A Practical guide)”.  Fortunately, after a year or two, I was rescued.  George Hofmann appeared at my Office.  He had just arrived from Germany where he had been studying the art of printmaking. He had no degrees to speak of that I could woo the Dean with on George’s behalf, but I was convinced; he could teach the course and do it well.  He got the job and I still had access to the print shop.
      So that was the start of my making prints using a press.  When I left Post College in 1962, it was a long time before I again had access to an etching press.
      I did my first silk screen prints in 1970.  I worked directly on mylar as well as the screens themselves.  In the early sixties I had begun using a spray gun in my paintings on canvas.  When I turned to silkscreen I realized I could also use my spray n to present large translucent areas of printed color in (for me) new ways that would work with opaque areas, applied with brushes.
    Now, so many years after my first involvement at C.W. Post, with the medium, I am working on acid bitten copper plates, making an aquatint print, and I feel like a kid whose longing is yet to be fulfilled.
    What’s so exciting about making a print, any print? It has to be that dizzy making moment – call it terror? – that comes with the pulling of the proof.


         As ever,


Long, Stephen and Karen Wilkin.  The Prints of Jules Olitski, A Catalogue Raisonné 1954 - 1989, Associated American Arts, New York, 1989, p.7.

Text courtesy of the Jules Olitski Family Estate.