Arnulf Rainer's Graphic Work

Arnulf Rainer prefers drypoint as the best method for bringing out the various darkening phases of the revision. This technique reveals the nuances of the gradual process while preserving the inner structure of the black surfaces. The elements important to the artist in the darkening process remain and are visible to the viewer: that is, entanglement, overlapping and the interplay of brushstrokes, sharp drawing and black smearing. Furthermore, this technique makes it possible to create various border designs, either through compact brushwork or fraying. You need strength to use the needle on resistant metal. The movement of the hand is visible and tangible. Complex linear structures, intersections, fine gossamer-like and unruly frayed lines emerge.

Like Rainer’s overlay, which repeatedly induces him to apply new brush strokes, drypoint also allows him continuous further processing. He continues to use repeatedly scratched plates to the point that they may eventually be completely darkened. This development becomes particularly evident in his series of Cross etchings. Here, too, the gradual darkening process is slow and takes several years with many intermediate steps.

The first etchings are black. It is not until the 1960s that Rainer starts using color, which becomes a very important design element. With the revision of his self-portraits on zinc plates or photogravure in the 1970s, the artist succeeds in enhancing the possibilities of drypoint.

Similar to the principle I follow in my overpainting, my etchings are created using other plates, but mostly my own. The gradual covering takes place slowly over several years. In the many intermediate stages, only individual test prints are made. If I think that I’ve found a firm foundation, I decide to produce an edition. So these plates have gone through many stages (although you would hardly be able to tell that when comparing them), just like human beings and insects in their metamorphoses. The drypoint technique allows the slow growth of a work, and thus it becomes increasingly important in my graphic work. It is likely that one day all my plates will end up to be black, that is, completely scratched out. Getting there represents a long path, on which I daily struggle along, because I love being on the road rather than reaching the destination, and I want to skip absolutely nothing along the way.

Arnulf Rainer, introductory text on the Stirnstrandwand portfolio, 1970

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