Sam Glankoff (1894-1982) 20th Century American Modernist Skip to content

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“Glankoff’s greatest contribution to contemporary art is that of creating and perfecting an art-making procedure that, while based on printmaking, can fairly safely be considered a new technique....”  

- JEFFREY WECHSLER

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Sam Glankoff in his studio, 1981. Image taken from the documentary film on his life and art, "Re-arranging Short Dreams".

PAINTINGS ON PAPER

When Glankoff was asked to describe his process, he stated that he was...“using a printing method to make a painting.”

In the 1970s Sam Glankoff conceived an original format of transfer painting that has come to be described as “print-painting” - an elaborate process whereby he painted directly on multiple wood templates and transferred layers of color to Japanese paper panels by hand to create unique works of art. Tremendous color saturation of individual hues were achieved by multiple inkings and translucent overlays. 

The “print-painting” process was devised by Glankoff, not only to create such effects, but also to permit the entire process, from beginning to end, to be carried out by the artist, without any assistance. 

Today “print-painting” has been recognized as a unique development in the history of 20th century works on paper. Over the next few pages, we would like to walk you through this process...

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A few of Glankoff's many hand mixed color charts

Glankoff produced preparatory drawings for each painting. A pencil grid, drawn through the colored pencil, pastel, gouache and ink images shows how Glankoff intended to proportionately scale up his designs. It was the studies that enabled him to achieve the spontaneity essential to his art.

Glankoff made color decisions at the beginning of the print-painting-making process by referring to color charts he himself had devised. The recipes on these charts called for water-soluble printer’s inks and casein colors - indicated on these charts by their chemical names - to be blended together.  

Glankoff mixed his own colors and often achieved unique hues in his works by layering one transparent color over another. With the addition of glycerine, he was able to control the drying process and thus extend the color’s absorption into the Japanese paper panels as well as being able to last throughout the painting of multiple matrix boards.

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Preparatory Drawing, SPII 18

1950s Abstract Carved Wood Block for AWdC 2001-12

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“Through the alchemy of shapes and colors, Glankoff seeks to make the intangible visible.”

- AMEI WALLACH: ART CRITIC, 1981

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Sam Glankoff in his Studio, 1981.

In preparation for Glankoff to scale-up the images from his preparatory drawings he primed the surface of the 19″ x 24″ Masonite boards. On his drafting table, he then combined these boards to make two-, and four-panel pieces. When he chose to work on a larger scale, six- and eight-panel works, the artist used simple sticks to act as a scaffold underneath the boards to extend the surface of the table.

Using the grid on the preparatory drawing as reference, Glankoff draws a similar grid in charcoal on the Masonite boards. The transferred image is drawn in charcoal as well, and then painted in acrylic, serving as a permanent matrix. As you see here, Glankoff is in the process of painting the scaled-up image on a six-panel piece. Each board will then be numbered.

In the 1950s Glankoff carved abstract images into small wood blocks and used gesso, caulking and string to build up surface textures in small editioned collage monotypes.

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“Glankoff’s work speaks to an inner spirituality as well as a technical mastery that are unique achievements in the history of art.”

- ​MARILYN KUSHNER

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The design matrix for a 4 Panel “circle” painting. One can also see a hint of a previous image underneath, as Glankoff often used and reused his boards.

A NEW PROCESS

In 1970, when Glankoff developed his process of making larger unique works, he continued to incise image and surface details directly into plywood boards, painting the design in oil paint.

But by the mid 1970s, he abandoned woodcut techniques, plywood and oil paint altogether and used faster drying neutral color acrylic paints on Masonite exclusively for his permanent design matrix.

Glankoff re-used these boards repeatedly. In this image of a “circle” you can see residue of the layer of pink printer’s ink that has been absorbed into the surface of the acrylic matrix.

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1. Preparatory drawings are always referenced when the design for each painting is scaled up and transfered to individual plywood and later, masonite boards.  When Glankoff assembled the boards on his drafting table, ie. 2 Panels, 4 Panels, 6 Panels etc, the design was then painted on each board or template, in oil, later in acrylic paint, and each one was then numbered with an arrow showing direction. Glankoff designed and built this special table that allowed him to keep each board secure, in register, and be able to easily slide each individual Japanese paper panel onto each board and into place. See #4 below.

2. When the transferring of the design on the boards is finished and the acrylic paint is dry, the boards are again separated, and stacked neatly, in numerical order, against the studio wall, in preparation for each board to be used separately and sequentially in the printing process.

3. In contrast to the indirect process of printmaking, the painterly manner in which Glankoff applies the combined water soluble ink and casein colors on the matrix boards, creates the impression of a directly painted surface.

4. After each template is painted, it is placed into register and Glankoff slides a panel carrying the Japanese paper panel across the surface of the board. In this photograph, Glankoff has painted this template with an overall red ground color - the first of many layers of color.

5. Glankoff then saturates the paper panel with a water mist to facilitate each impression. With a hand roller or brayer, the artist transfers the ground color and later, each detail of the image. With each layer of color, and through this method, Glankoff is able to control the color’s absorption. But more importantly, as he begins to transfer the elements of the design, he is able to capture, in reverse, the spontaneity and gestural qualities of his brushstroke. Through this multi-colored, multi-layered transfer process, with often six or more impressions of color per paper panel, Glankoff achieved his luminous atmospheric and textured surfaces.

6. Glankoff carefully separates the moistened paper panel, saturated with color, from the matrix board.

7. Between each impression of color, the panels are allowed to dry overnight. After years of experimentation, Glankoff devised a simple press to flatten and dry each paper panel. Although not pictured here...each panel is lightly misted with water, placed between individual panels of glass plates and felt and covered with a sheet of oil-cloth. The handmade Japanese paper panels are left to dry for two or three days.

8. The handmade Japanese goyu paper that Glankoff uses is slightly larger than the 19″x 24″ Masonite matrix boards. Although not pictured here...when the flattened paper panels are removed from the press, Glankoff removes the white margin edges from either two or three sides of the panel. This is a close up of Glankoff joining the flattened panels together with glue, on his drafting table. Sam Glankoff mastered this unique transfer painting process; utilizing multiple matrix boards, multiple paper panels, multiple layers of colors, ultimately joining the work together to create a larger “whole” while sustaining the spontaneity of his brushstroke and gesture of his imagery.

1. Preparatory drawings are always referenced when the design for each painting is scaled up and transfered to individual plywood and later, masonite boards.  When Glankoff assembled the boards on his drafting table, ie. 2 Panels, 4 Panels, 6 Panels etc, the design was then painted on each board or template, in oil, later in acrylic paint, and each one was then numbered with an arrow showing direction. Glankoff designed and built this special table that allowed him to keep each board secure, in register, and be able to easily slide each individual Japanese paper panel onto each board and into place. See #4 below.

2. When the transferring of the design on the boards is finished and the acrylic paint is dry, the boards are again separated, and stacked neatly, in numerical order, against the studio wall, in preparation for each board to be used separately and sequentially in the printing process.

3. In contrast to the indirect process of printmaking, the painterly manner in which Glankoff applies the combined water soluble ink and casein colors on the matrix boards, creates the impression of a directly painted surface.

4. After each template is painted, it is placed into register and Glankoff slides a panel carrying the Japanese paper panel across the surface of the board. In this photograph, Glankoff has painted this template with an overall red ground color - the first of many layers of color.

5. Glankoff then saturates the paper panel with a water mist to facilitate each impression. With a hand roller or brayer, the artist transfers the ground color and later, each detail of the image. With each layer of color, and through this method, Glankoff is able to control the color’s absorption. But more importantly, as he begins to transfer the elements of the design, he is able to capture, in reverse, the spontaneity and gestural qualities of his brushstroke. Through this multi-colored, multi-layered transfer process, with often six or more impressions of color per paper panel, Glankoff achieved his luminous atmospheric and textured surfaces.

6. Glankoff carefully separates the moistened paper panel, saturated with color, from the matrix board.

7. Between each impression of color, the panels are allowed to dry overnight. After years of experimentation, Glankoff devised a simple press to flatten and dry each paper panel. Although not pictured here...each panel is lightly misted with water, placed between individual panels of glass plates and felt and covered with a sheet of oil-cloth. The handmade Japanese paper panels are left to dry for two or three days.

8. The handmade Japanese goyu paper that Glankoff uses is slightly larger than the 19″x 24″ Masonite matrix boards. Although not pictured here...when the flattened paper panels are removed from the press, Glankoff removes the white margin edges from either two or three sides of the panel. This is a close up of Glankoff joining the flattened panels together with glue, on his drafting table. Sam Glankoff mastered this unique transfer painting process; utilizing multiple matrix boards, multiple paper panels, multiple layers of colors, ultimately joining the work together to create a larger “whole” while sustaining the spontaneity of his brushstroke and gesture of his imagery.

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