What kind of machine do you have today?
Exactly the same one, and we have acquired a couple of others. I also have a very large press I built. Four masterprinters now work at the studio. My main job today is the dialogue with the artists, but I still make the plates. Everybody in the print shop can do it, but it often ends up being my task. It is like being a chef, cooking. I still enjoy it as much as when I began. In principle, an etching press is made of two rollers and a very strong frame. There is nothing complicated about it, and that is really one of the nice things about it. You are very free to experiment because it is so simple that you can think about what would happen if you were to run tomatoes through it. If you try to do that on an Epson printer, it is not going to work. What I like about etching is that it works like a pencil. If you give it to one person, they will draw a certain way. If you give it to another person, they will do a completely different drawing. These techniques are very specific, but at the same time extremely malleable. It is perhaps why I currently see a renewed interest from younger generations in working with classic printmaking techniques. They may see room for experimentation and freedom, but without the random aspect of digital printing.
How many projects do you do each year?
About 10 projects of different sizes. Every year we try to add some new artists to our list. We usually work on a basis of trust with the artists. Once we start a collaboration, it could last for years, but we don’t start until we feel we really want to collaborate together. Some artists don’t like making prints because there is a distance between what they envision, what they usually do in their own studio, and the result. In that case, it’s better not to start. Printmaking is challenging. On the other hand, some artists really like it because they go to places they never went to before, and create works they wouldn’t have created otherwise. When you start with an artist you don’t know, you spend a lot of time talking and playing around and doing things until the artist feels comfortable with it and free enough to experiment and ask questions about the possibilities. We have been lucky enough to have artists who really got excited about working in a print shop. We recently published works by Stanley Whitney, John Zurier, and Thomas Scheibitz for the first time.
Which print proved to be the most difficult to make?
Because we work with artists over a long period, I think it is also part of my role to challenge them a bit. When I get to know how they think, I sometimes suggest going in a certain direction. That said, I’m particularly proud of what we did with Julie Mehretu (Epigraph, Damascus, 2016). It is the first work we ever did together and is 2.5 by 6 meters. Producing and engineering a print that large is always an achievement.
How do you decide the number of copies for each edition?
We decide it with the artists. Of course, there are physical limits. Some plates will wear out after maybe 20 prints, so the edition will be limited to 20. Nowadays the market is really focusing on small editions. When I started, an edition would be 100. Before that, it would have been 300. These days our standard number is around 16. I would like to add something here because people often misunderstand this. What we are doing as printmakers and publishers is not about reproduction. The prints we produce are specifically made to be printed; they don’t reproduce anything. There is no original. The prints themselves are the artworks and are conceived as such.
Why did you open the gallery in Berlin?
Copenhagen is a small town, there isn’t an art market that would support the kind of publishing we do. We had to go beyond it. Berlin is only an hour by plane from Copenhagen. I have many friends there; I had worked with many galleries based in Berlin. It was quite natural to open there. Our inaugural show was with Georg Baselitz. Later, in 2014, we opened a space in Copenhagen to showcase our editions not too far from the print shop.
Extract from the Art Basel | Year 48 book. For more information, click here.
Learn more about Niels Borch Jensen.
Top image: Tacita Dean, Quarantania, 2018. Photogravure on 7 panels on Somerset White Satin 300 gr. Size: Paper 72 x 100 cm; Frame 247 x 757 cm. Edition of 12 + 3 AP. Courtesy Niels Borch Jensen.