Maribel Arrieta – “People,” 1953


Color silkscreen, 9 1/2 x 14 inches


Felix Landau Gallery



The “new” medium of silkscreen used for non-commercial, “fine” art was first investigated in the United States from the 1930s to  early 1950s, a perfect medium for the expression of “mid-century” design, and eventually POP Art.  A group of artists in 1938 formed the National Serigraph Society, which included artists such as Max Arthur Cohn and Anthony Velonis, Ernest Freed, Maribel Arrieta, and many others. This society coined the term Serigraphy (a term meaning “seri” silk in Latin and “graphein” to draw in Greek) as a way to differentiate their own artistic application of screen printing on to paper from the industrial, commercial use of the process.  The technique was taught in art schools and colleges across the United States, with a special focus at Bradely University in Illinois and a silkscreen workshop in Los Angeles.

Screenprinting originated in China during the Song Dynasty (960–1279 AD) as a way of transferring designs onto fabrics. Japan was one of the first Asian countries to start make recognizable forms of screenprinting. The Japanese used simple stenciling techniques to create imagery on fabric. Stencils were originally cut out of paper and the mesh they used was woven from human hair. Ink was forced through the mesh onto the fabric with stiff brushes.

The art form made its way to Europe in the 18th Century but did not immediately become largely accepted. France began using silk screens to print on to fabric earlier in the 17th Century, although they still used stiff brushes to push it through the mesh. But it eventually led to the practice of stretching silk over a frame to support the stencils. And in the 19th Century when silk mesh was more available to be traded from Asia, it proved to be a profitable outlet for the medium. It grew in traction and popularity around Europe.

In the early 1900s, squeegees were formed and used as a way of pulling ink through the screen mesh. Roy Beck, Charles Peter and Edward Owens are credited with revolutionizing the commercial screen printing industry by their introduction of photo-imaged stencils to screenprinting.

The screenprinting process was initially used to print interesting colors and patterns on wall paper and fabrics and then advertising for campaigns. Eventually artists and commercial printers adopted it as a new way of producing their works on different materials such as t-shirts, DVDs, glass, paper, metal and wood. By the 1960’s Pop Artists such as Peter Blake, Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg used screen printing, mostly serigraphy, as an important element of their art. This led to its immensely increased popularity as a medium for creating contemporary artworks.