What is "serigraphy"? It is also called "silk-screen" or "screen printing", but there are some good reasons for the different terms.
I had the pleasure of talking to Anthony Velonis (NYC) many years ago. Velonis was working for the WPA as head of the Fine Art Project when he started using the term "serigraphy".. He had published a booklet in 1937 entitled "Technical Problems of the Artist: Technique of the Silk Screen Process". But "technical" were not the only problems that he faced in those WPA years. He had in his FAP a large number of fine artists, who because of the desperate economics of the time were working for this government project. He told me that he saw much depression and self-esteem loss within the artist's ranks. And he wanted to do something that would distinguish these fine artists and their silk-screened posters from the early silk-screeners, who had primarily used the technique to produce commercial art.
Velonis told me that he consulted with the owner of the Weyhe Gallery, Carl Zigrosser, about this problem. Then he went down to the NY Public Library and spent days researching and thinking. In the end, he sat on the front steps of the library with his journal and wrote down: "Serigraphy", from the Latin "Seri" (silk) and the Greek "graphein" (to write or draw). His effort to differentiate "creative art" in silk-screen from "commercial application" would benefit such artists as Elizabeth Olds, Ruth Chaney and Harry Gottleib, who were working for the FPA at the time. Eventually artists like Warhol, Albers, Motherwell, Stella, and Rauschenberg would embrace and benefit from the new term.
Silk-screen itself, by the way, is said to go back 2000 years. Although it was first patented in the UK (1907) and then the US (1908). The company that first used the process in the US was the San Francisco Flag Company, who used silk-screen to make advertising posters.
The silk-screen process, simply described, involves forcing ink through a stencil that is embedded in a silk or polyester mesh "screen". The screen is a wooden or metal frame over which the mesh (which today is sometimes metal) is stretched drum-tight. When I spoke with Mr. Velonis, he asked me what materials I used in my serigraphy. I described to him the photographic emulsion that I used to make stencils directly on the polyester mesh (400 strands per inch) and the fine arts inks that I use or mix myself. I asked what those pioneers in silk-screen used and he shocked me with his answer. They used fabric remnants for mesh - "anything we could get our hands on" was the way he put it. And "paint from the hardware store" was used in lieu of today's fine art inks. I can't imagine how frustrating that must have been - today's materials give me an amazing amount of control over every facet of serigraphy. I have a brand new fascination and appreciation of those early WPA posters.
Book of Phil's Serigraphs spanning 40 years.
Phil Dynan's work as seen in The Best of Screen Printing (Rockport) Click Here
To see examples of Serigraphy please go to "Serigraphs"
To see a work in progress, visit Working