Autumn 2004

Industrial Palimpsest

Karel Martens: Counterprint

Texts: Carel Kuitenbrouwer and Paul Elliman. Hyphen Press, &pound;17.50, $35<br><br>

This book contains a sampling of Dutch designer Karl Martens’ formal experiments in printmaking, colour and visual ephemera. Produced in a limited run of 4000 and Japanese bound, it has a strong presence as an object. A short essay by Paul Elliman articulates the themes surrounding Martens’ work. Throughout his long, seemingly bi-polar career, Martens has produced work that ranges from the coolly formal to playful gestures of the kind shown here. The common elements have always been visual simplicity – plus a fascination with the mechanics and materials of production.

By grouping and layering vestiges of an increasingly disposable world, Martens gives new life to the ephemeral. Through the resourceful use of metal plates and washers as printing stamps Martens creates a palimpsest print, mixing together the tactile iconography of machines and industry. Elliman writes that the print is both physical and metaphorical, telling a story in ‘an industrialised short form’, using 21st-century artefacts to hint at our existence and consumption.

As an object, Counterprint is a short reprise to Martens’ previous book, Druckwerk (Hyphen). But where Druckwerk is dense, complex and lucid, Counterprint is slim and casual, more like a sketchbook than a comprehensive survey. The design of the book, by Hans Gremmen in consultation with Karel Martens, reflects this relaxed attitude. Much of the book’s content – colourful monoprints, boldly constructed compositions, ASCII assembled images and reclaimed printed ephemera – provides another look at the familiar qualities of Martens’ work, but with less of the depth and none of the context of Druckwerk. The slim softback is bound together by a large folded wrapper, enclosing overprinted test prints from the pages within, a reminder of the chance and excitement Martens is usually known for.

Zak Kyes, CalArts student, Santa Barbara

First published in Eye no. 53 vol. 14, 2004

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