I first became interested in monotypes after seeing an exhibition of work by Maurice Prendergast in 1979 at the Davis and Long Galleries in New York City. The following year the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened The Painterly Print: Monotypes from the Seventeenth to the Twentieth Century. I was surprised to find that so many artists had made monotypes and that they considered the medium substantial enough to have produced serious works in it. I was immediately drawn to monotypes because they are very close to painting. Monotypes have a quality all their own, a freshness and spontaneity. Monotypes can be very expressive. The application of paint is often loose and bold because of the need to finish them quickly before the paint dries.
Monotypes date back to the seventeenth century and have been approached somewhat differently by each artist who has ever experimented with them. An artist’s prints will often reflect the characteristics of his paintings. This is probably because the process is almost as direct as painting on canvas. Degas did a great number of monotypes and was extremely inventive with them (as he was with every medium he used). Gauguin did watercolor monotypes. Matisse created beautiful white line drawings by marking into an ink-covered plate with the handle of his brush and then printing what remained on the plate. Willem de Kooning printed directly from his wet canvas. Milton Avery applied oil washes to a glass plate, which already had a base of turpentine, and puddled his colors, creating a unique effect. Picasso made more than one hundred monotypes. Many artists now are experimenting with nontraditional surfaces and materials and doing their monotypes on a much larger scale. The possibilities are unlimited. There are so many options: different techniques, variations in the printing process, many kinds of surfaces, tools, and papers. To get a feeling for what can be achieved with this medium, it is not only necessary to experiment, but also to do a great many prints, since only then will the possibilities become apparent.
For those interested in experimenting with monotypes, I would highly recommend, in addition to the The Painterly Print, Jean Adhemar Francoise Cachin’s Degas: The Complete Etchings, Lithographs, and Monotypes. Another beautiful and informative book to seek out is Monotypes by Maurice Prendergast in the Terra Museum of American Art by Cecily Langdale.
From Mary Beth McKenzie’s Horse Barns, a series of seventeen monotypes. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Gift of the artist, 2012.
Mary Beth McKenzie, Diner (untitled), 1999. Collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Mary Beth McKenzie, Fruit Stand (Woman in Pink Skirt), 1989.
Mary Beth McKenzie, Fruit Stand at Night, 1989.
Mary Beth McKenzie, Apples, 1989.