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Portrait Domberger | Heike Rudloff

Domberger

A quick Google search and there they are: the Dombergers, veterans of the original artist print using the method of screen printing

in Germany. They introduced and pioneered the new art printing medium and soon mastered it with a high degree of technical perfection—and with such finesse that international artists flocked to the doors of their studio in Stuttgart. Many well-known screen prints were created there in close and creative collaboration between artists and printers.
The list of artists who have worked with Domberger reads like a Who’ s Who of the art world, some 200 names, many of them world-famous artists:

Roy Lichtenstein, Cy Twombly, Keith Haring and Robert Indiana and Pierre Soulages, one of the

PORTRAIT - MICHAEL DOMBERGER > read more here

most well-known French artists; Antoni Tàpies, the famous Spanish painter, Tina Tahir, Andy Warhol, Imi Knoebel, Christo and Jeanne Claude, Sigmar Polke, Georg Baselitz, Heinz Mack, Günter Uecker, Max Bill and many, many more. Willi Baumeister was a close friend and the first to work with ‘Poldi’ Domberger, the founder of the printing studio; later on, Richard Estes also went on to become a close friend.

In the early decades of screen printing, original serigraphs—the term used for screen prints that are artworks—were hand printed. Artists such as Robert Indiana created a draft of the artwork, “and all we had to do was create a print from it,” Michael Domberger says, the second-generation owner of the family business, now himself in his 70s. Some artists provided pastels, sometimes even simple pencil sketches as drafts; Max Bill once even presented the printers with “an almost grotesque slip of paper.” Before computers came along, this was where our work began: “The stencils for the printing process, usually made from exposed film, were cut by hand.” 

American artist Richard Estes even traced them himself and continued working on the stencils in his hotel room at night,” Michael Domberger recalls. Estes printed several large art portfolios with Domberger. “One print involved 96 colors, and another 212! For us that meant that we had to produce a stencil for each color and then continue on to the next printing cycle.” Estes spent an entire year working alongside Domberger specialists on each of these portfolios.

It was incredibly time consuming to produce serigraphs for art portfolios—collections of works by one or more artists—Michael Domberger explains. Artworks were created with absolute precision and attention to minute detail, until perfection was achieved—both in the eyes of the artists and the equally ambitious master printers.

Michael Domberger with works by Victor Vasarely, 2018

Michael Domberger with works by Victor Vasarely, 2018

Yet if you look closely, he says, showing a Victor Vasarely print, you’ll see that early serigraphs do in fact sometimes display slight flaws; Domberger points to tiny color overlaps, “That, and chance results, indicate that it was hand printed. Today, such details can increase the value of the prints.” With today’s modern digital printing machines, on the other hand, all colors are printed at the same time, in a single pass. According to Domberger, the small flaws that resulted in the original screen printing process, are no longer present in modern digital prints. “Today’s digital prints display the highest degree of precision—often stunningly beautiful! But what is missing is the artist’s touch and the artisan’s craftsmanship. We often used to take months to create something like that!” Looking back, he now realizes, “it made us think more and more creatively.”

The Domberger printing studio has an excellent international reputation in the art world; a fact confirmed by the long list of artists who have come to work with the studio’s master printers. Even today, there are very few screen printers In Germany that can produce high-quality serigraphs, says Domberger, adding with a mischievous smile, “Some of them learned their craft here.”

What does the future hold in store? How long will serigraphs continue to exist? Will the helping hand of expert artisans who master the art of screen printing still be needed? 

From decades of working with artists, Michael Domberger knows that young artists in particular, “always tend to use the most modern techniques,” and many of them now even own the necessary technical equipment. “They decide themselves what is best suited for their work.” His conclusion is that “in its heyday, screen printing was very dominant,” but it has now found its place alongside other classical printing methods such as lithography and etching.

The company was founded by Luitpold Domberger, nicknamed Poldi, who produced his first serigraphs with artist Willi Baumeister in 1949. With the new medium of artistic screen printing, Poldi Domberger, who was himself a passionate painter, soon established an excellent reputation among other artists, who travelled from Germany and abroad to work with him and have his studio produce their original prints. “Printing serigraphs with artists was always only one part of our work—but it was lots of fun!” says Michael Domberger, looking back at the early years when he was being trained by his father. In his third year of training he went to apprentice at a screen printing studio in Copenhagen, followed by short stints in Switzerland and England. After completing his training, he was recruited by Hallmark Cards in 1960 and went to Kansas City in the United States to work as a screen printer. Although screen printing was originally invented in the United States, by hiring Michael Domberger, the American greeting card company, which did a great deal of screen printing, was able to bring in the Dombergers’ wealth of experience. Luitpold Domberger, the founder of the studio, had in the meantime become an internationally recognized master printer—and everyone knew that he had trained his son himself. “I was in my early 20s and had already been appointed technical advisor; my boss decided to make me three years older than I was,” says Michael Domberger, grinning. He was soon well regarded because upon joining the company, he proceeded to overhaul its screen printing process, effectively cutting costs. It was an exciting time, “of course also because of the Kansas City Art Institute,” where people taught and studied who would later go on to become some of the most contemporary famous artists!” When Michael Domberger returned to Germany, he completed his studies in Berlin and then joined the family business, taking over the printing studio in 1968. A few years later he also assumed control of Edition Domberger, a division of the family business that publishes and sells artists’ serigraphs. Michael Domberger expanded the printing studio’s business by producing creative calendars: millions of copies of the Springende Punkt calendars soon sold. Profitable products such as these also enabled him to further consolidate the company’s reputation in the arts by collaborating closely with other international artists.

As the enterprising and determined person he was, and still is, he reaches for the phone whenever he sees an interesting opportunity for the company. “In New York, at the time, I was looking for new artists for one of our annual art calendars and decided to give Andy Warhol a call. He wasn’t easy to reach, but finally, I found myself sitting opposite him, discussing a possible collaboration on the calendar. As an example, I showed him the previous year’s calendar with works by Max Bill, Anni Albers and Robert Indiana. Andy Warhol looked through them, thoughtfully he held one up and said, “No… I don’t think I should do that! Your printing is much too superb for my work.”

What did he mean? Warhol usually did his own prints, which always had slight overlaps—this became the hallmark of his work. “We were too good!” Domberger says, to this day still amused by Warhol’s reaction, “It wasn’t until years later that we printed other works by Warhol”. 

The Domberger business eventually moved to a new location and now occupies an imposing three-story factory building in Filderstadt-Plattenhardt near Stuttgart. Much of what was created over the years can still be viewed today. The Domberger collection, compiled over the course of many years, was acquired by the state of Baden-Württemberg in 2009. It includes originals, drafts, stencils, proofs, corrections and completed serigraphs; it not only demonstrates the creativity of the many artists who worked with the printing studio, but also the Dombergers’ love of experimenting.

A second exhibition is planned. For more information, details on the artists and their “helping hand” visit www.domberger.de.

Michael Domberger with works by Sine Hansen and Tina Tahir.

Michael Domberger, 2018

with works by Sine Hansen and Tina Tahir.

Galerie + Edition Dormberger
Uhlbergstrasse 36 – 40
70794 Filderstadt-Plattenhardt (near Stuttgart)

www.domberger.de