The New York artist is mainly responsible for introducing the screen printing technology to public and making it popular, as well as inspiring other great artists such as Andy Warhol who created art with this printing technique. In this edition of Pioneers of Printing we focus on the American painter and designer, Anthony Velonis, who is significantly responsible for making screen printing popular to a wider public. While working for the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression, he experimented and mastered techniques to print on many different materials and therefore brought screen printing from an industrial use to the world of fine art. The so-called serigraphy inspired many other famous artists such as Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg. Taking minor artistic roles such as the illustration of his high school yearbook, he later received a scholarship to the NYU College of Fine Arts , which left him both, surprised and proud to be selected.
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New York City subway station interior. Anthony Velonis — was an American painter and designer born in New York City who helped introduce the public to silkscreen printing in the early 20th century. While employed under the federal Works Progress Administration, WPA during the Great Depression, Velonis brought the use of silkscreen printing as a fine art form, referred to as the "serigraph," into the mainstream.
By his own request, he was not publicly credited for coining the term. He experimented and mastered techniques to print on a wide variety of materials, such as glass, plastics, and metal, thereby expanding the field. In the mid to late 20th century, the silkscreen technique became popular among other artists such as Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.
Velonis was born into a relatively poor background of a Greek immigrant family and grew up in the tenements of New York City. Early on, he took creative inspiration from figures in his life such as his grandfather, an immigrant from the mountains in Greece, who was "an ecclesiastical painter, on Byzantine style. He eventually received a scholarship to the NYU College of Fine Arts, into which he was both surprised and ecstatic to have been admitted.
Around this time he took to painting, watercolor, and sculpture, as well as various other art forms, hoping to find a niche that fit. Around the year , Velonis became interested in silk screen, together with fellow artist Fritz Brosius, and decided to investigate the practice. He reminisced in an interview three decades later that doing so was "plenty of fun," and that a lot of technology can be discovered through hard work, more so if it is worked on "little by little.
One such project required him to go on a commercial fishing trip to locations including New Bedford and Nantucket for a fortnight, where he primarily took photographs and notes, and made sketches. Afterward, for a period of roughly six months, he was occupied with creating paintings from these records. During this trip, Velonis developed true respect and affinity for the fishermen with whom he traveled, "the relatively uneducated person," in his words.
After the formation of the federal Works Progress Administration, which hired artists and sponsored projects in the arts, he also worked in theater. Velonis began working for the federal WPA in He kept this position until or , at which point he began working in the graphic art division of the Federal Art Project, which he ultimately led. Under various elements of the WPA program, many young artists, writers and actors gained employment that helped them survive during the Depression, as well as contributing works that created an artistic legacy for the country.
When interviewed in December by the Library of Congress about his time in the WPA, Velonis reflected that he had greatly enjoyed that period, saying that he liked the "excitement" and "meeting all the other artists with different points of view. As he recalled in a interview: "I suggested that the Poster division would be a lot more productive and useful if they had an auxiliary screen printing project that worked along with them.
And apparently this was very favorably received During his employment with the Federal Art Project, Velonis created nine silkscreen posters for the federal government.
Around Velonis wrote a pamphlet titled "Technical Problems of the Artist: Technique of the Silkscreen Process," which was distributed to art centers run by the WPA around the country. It was considered very influential in encouraging artists to try this relatively inexpensive technique and stimulated printmaking across the country. They printed both their own works and those of other artists in their facility. This was considered the most important silkscreen shop of the period. The next year, Velonis founded the National Serigraph Society.
It started out with relatively small commercial projects, such as "rather fancy" Christmas cards that were sold to many of the upscale Fifth Avenue shops for a dollar apiece.
In Velonis also founded the Ceraglass Company, a silkscreening firm intended to experiment with silkscreen prints on glass and plastic. Eventually, such outreach led to expansion into the glass industry. Using enamels, Velonis was able to print on flat bottles in a fashion similar to printing on paper; the company later patented the method of printing on both sides of the flat bottle. While beginning as a minor side project, the new method of glass printing was very successful.
Most attempts by other organizations to make prints stick permanently on plastics were unsuccessful; however, Velonis was able to find a solution. By dissolving a resin made from ground-up lipsticks, he was able to facilitate the grinding of pigments more effectively, allowing for the paint to stick due to the migrating plasticizer within it. After Velonis was drafted, Warsager persuaded his commanding officer to write a letter of introduction to place Velonis in the same position.
During this time, Velonis expanded military programs such as screen processing and graphic arts. Later, during his time in Wright Field, Velonis was placed in the statistical control department, where he worked in management engineering.
His department focused on formatting raw data into more accessible visuals, such as graphs and other such illustrations. After the war ended, Velonis returned to his company, which had since grown to roughly one hundred employees. While moderately successful overall, he later described the business as being "on and off. He focused on metals secondarily due to a lack of demand for metal prints. As a result of these events, Velonis focused less on painting between around He attributed his lack of "creative energy" in this time period, regarding paintings in particular, to his work in engineering projects such as printing on plastics.
He said this work required him to "apply yourself day in and day out" for acceptable results. The scholarship is offered to undergraduate or graduate students studying "glass, ceramic or related curriculum including engineering, design or art.
Pioneers of Printing: Anthony Velonis and the Invention of the Serigraphy
Exhibitions , University Gallery Long considered as a commercial method of print production, the silkscreen process received a new appreciation in the mids, when artist Anthony Velonis, tasked by New York City Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia with a project to promote the city government, embraced the silkscreen method to produce posters that publicized administrative projects in the city. In February of , the University Gallery held an exhibition of the silkscreen process and works created by it. An exhibition catalog at left was produced by the Gallery using the print method, and includes an overview of the art form, and a step-by-step description of the process. University faculty, students, and Gallery employees utilized the silkscreen process to produce exhibition posters and catalogs that promoted the frequently changing exhibitions held in the Gallery.
Oral history interview with Anthony Velonis, 1965 October 13
Size: Sound recordings: 1 sound tape reel ; 7 in. Transcript: 38 p. Format: Originally recorded on 1 sound tape reel. Reformatted in as 1 digital wav file. Duration is 1 hr.