A stork is dressed as a doctor in frock coat and lacy ascot, medical instruments peeking from his pocket, holding a massive syringe in front of him. His gaze is purposeful and his long beak seemingly as sharp as the needle.
Take French caricatures from the 19th century, use a process popularized by Andy Warhol in the ’60s, and have an eco-conscious Richmond print shop execute: The result is “The Grandville Series by Triple Stamp Press,” a 21st-century reimagining of artist J.J. Grandville’s “Les Animaux” illustrations showing at Ghostprint Gallery.
The exhibit of 11 prints celebrates Grandville’s inventive and ingenious illustrations of animals attired and characterized as humans. Each limited-edition serigraph, the term for the result of the screen-printing process, was created by isolating elements from Grandville’s single-color drawings and removing it from its 19th-century context to be reconceived in color.
It’s a painstaking process. Screen-printing requires that each of the hand-mixed ink colors be printed using a separate screen. “The Doctor,” for instance, is a 10-color serigraph. One color is printed at a time from lightest to darkest, each screen aligned to the previous one by hand using the printer’s eye and a four-point registration process.
“We got better at it as we went along,” says Will Loyal of Triple Stamp Press, walking through the sunny gallery with fellow printer Jonathan Vassar. “We had to load the paper by hand 10 times for each print.” If you’re keeping track, that’s 110 screens for the entire series.
The resulting prints are striking for their clever imagery — the pomposity of a chicken as “The Duelist” with spurs at his heels, the assuredness of “The Lioness” in full period skirt, pistol tied to the sash at her waist — and for how contemporary they appear. Part of this is abundance of white space in each print. Triple Stamp removed extraneous figures and details to isolate main characters that dominate the picture plane. Another aspect relates to the way the works are printed using linear and radial gradations of ink.
“There’s no texture to the work we did,” Loyal says. “It looks very clean and modern. Coupled with the nature of the original artwork, it gives it a contemporary look.”
His shop isn’t the first to relate to Grandville’s fanciful illustrations, which could almost be labeled surrealistic except that movement came 80 years later. The rock world saw its potential when Queen used some of his artwork on its 1991 album, “Innuendo,” and Alice in Chains did the same on its eponymous 1995 album.
“The goal was to create work that would showcase what we love about print,” Loyal says. One reason for making a series of prints rather than monoprints is so the art will be accessible and affordable.
“We print things all the time — posters, T-shirts, packaging — but they’re designed by the person who requests the job,” he says. “But with the Grandville series, we’re connected to the art. We have a larger sense of ownership over it.”
Ultimately the series is about the printing process. The use of rich color, ink transparency and halftone blending techniques showcase the artistic potential of the medium as exquisitely executed by a print shop begun in a basement.
Vassar mentions that the business is five years old this month.
“I didn’t know that,” Loyal says. “What did you get me?” S
“The Grandville Series by Triple Stamp Press,” shows at Ghostprint Gallery, 220 W. Broad St., through March 28. Call 344-1557 or visit ghostprintgallery.com.