The Science Of Printmaking, Sans Harsh Chemistry

Independent/Courtesy Dan Welden

Dan Welden has been going green since the days of taking food scraps to the compost behind his childhood home in Babylon, at only three years old. That act foreshadowed his transformative efforts in the art industry. He created an eco-friendly and sustainable form of printmaking — Solarplate —using light sensitive plates.

Welden has been producing works on prints and paper, and inspiring students and teachers alike in the greener method of Solarplate, without the use of harmful chemicals, for decades. He’s had over 80 international solo exhibits and 700 group shows.

In 1987, Welden was granted $7800 from East End Arts Council to refine his process. That’s when he reached out to famous artist and philanthropist — and a fellow Sag Harbor resident — Eric Fischl to collaborate, and in 1992, Solarplate Process became a standard technique.

Solarplate quickly rose as an environmentally friendly alternative to traditional printmaking.

Next month, Southampton Arts Center presents two simultaneous exhibits by the renowned printmaker and artist. “Solar Impressions” and “International Masters/Collaborations in Printmaking” will be on view from November 16 through December 29.

“International Masters/Collaborations in Printmaking” will include collaborative works between Welden and 133 other artists across 11 countries, including names like Willem de Kooning, Elaine de Kooning, Kiki Smith, Dan Flavin, Robert Gwathmey, Syd Solomon, Robert Dash, Louisa Chase, David Salle, Lynda Benglis, Bill King, Jane Freilicher, Jimmy Ernst, Roy Nicholson, Kurt Vonnegut, and more.

“Solar Impressions” will feature artists from around the world and famed contemporary artists as they showcase methods incorporating the Solarplate printing technique.

More than 700 entries were submitted and juried by Laura Einstein, manager of the Mezzanine Gallery at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; Alex Ferrone, owner/director of the Alex Ferrone Gallery in Cutchogue; and Ron Pokrasso, Santa Fe artist and world printmaking traveler; and awards juror Fischl. The group then narrowed it down to just over 100 selections. All images utilize science, with processed sunlight and tap water to etch the light steel-backed polymer plates.

“This exhibition was not easy,” Welden said. “In fact, a formidable challenge, not having ever organized a show with 720 entries before. The rejection notices were a horror for me, especially having to let some close colleagues and friends know that they were not able to participate. All artists in this exhibit used the Solarplate as their prime material. The works, styles, and subjects vary from intimate, two-inch photographic gems to eight-foot powerhouses of abstract color.”

Fifty or more of the selected artists are expected to visit the exhibition. Special to the exhibit is a collaboration between Welden and Fischl, coming full circle, in a Solarplate print. There will be five impressions available at a discounted rate to Southampton Arts Center members at $1750; another 25 will go for $2000 each, all benefitting the center on Jobs Lane in Southampton.

Since 1971, Welden has collaborated with numerous artists across stone lithography and etching at his Hampton Editions Ltd. studio in Sag Harbor.

“The ‘Masters’ range is almost 40 years of collaborative work,” he said. “The common string that the artists had was the collaborative spirit we had together. The artists would bring their ideas and they would create images on plates and stones by drawing or painting directly on the different surfaces, which I would process, place a sheet of beautiful paper on top, and run it through the press. These original works are not reproductions, and were all conceived by the artists with the sole intention of printmaking,” Welden said.

“Up and coming artists might consider taking classes and workshops in the medium of printmaking. The greater sensation comes through the act of working on materials that are somewhat foreign, sometimes even uncomfortable, and certainly an adventure into the unknown,” Welden said. “Science is the natural backbone to all printmaking, whether it be done through chemistry or physically. Science is key to the understanding of ‘how’ things work, whereas the art is the element which serves our hearts.”

The opening night, Saturday, November 16, will include a solar etchings panel discussion at 5 PM, followed by a gallery tour and printing press demonstration on Sunday, November 17, at 12:30 PM, and a Solarplate panel discussion with exhibiting artists at 5 PM.

Visit to see a full schedule of events, and head to to learn more.

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