This week we’ve been admiring the latest release from Obey (Shepard Fairey). He’s unveiled a striking series of abstract lotus silkscreen prints created with white and black diamond dust. This is the first time Obey has used the medium so we’re taking the opportunity to illuminate the shimmering world of diamond dust.
Diamond dust is a glittering material that can be applied to paper and ink in the silkscreen printing process to create a textured and luminous finish. To get the low down on the sparkling medium we’ve spoken to one of the master fine art printers behind the silkscreen prints of Ben Eine, Charming Baker, Amanda Marie, Pure Evil and many other acclaimed artists. More technical than primary school glitter glue, he explained to us that diamond dust is a professional and versatile material that is sourced from specialist manufacturers. It is available in multiple sizes of grain, from fine which is similar in size to salt or sugar, to big coarse flakes (half a centimetre). It is also available in numerous colours but printers most commonly use clear diamond dust which can be applied on top of coloured ink to create a kaleidoscopic sparkle.
Silkscreen printing is a technique that uses a woven mesh to support an ink-blocking stencil. Prints can be created using multiple layers of stencils, each of which apply a separate colour. To apply diamond dust to a print, instead of ink being transferred through the stencil archival art glue is applied. Printers have only minutes to work before this glue dries. They must apply the chosen grade of diamond dust to the glued surface and tap off any excess. The diamond dust is an exceptionally hardwearing material, and applied to paper with archival glue it is a surprisingly durable and enduring artistic medium.
Obey (Shepard Fairey)’s first foray into diamond dusting has been a great success. The glittering finish on his four monochromatic works adds unexpected texture, depth and intensity. Obey has described diamond dust as “a shimmering and elegant material.” He believes that the sparkle aligns with his interest in the seduction of advertising and consumerism. As a result, these alluring floral abstractions are a subtle addition to his commentary on consumerism. Diamond dust is the perfect medium to use in an examination of materialism, not only because of its association with luxurious diamonds, but also because it was famously utilised by Pop artist Andy Warhol who famously transformed ordinary images into coveted objects.
Credit is generally given to Andy Warhol for popularising silkscreen printing in the United States. He remained at the forefront of fine art printing throughout his career and continued to advance the technique, including incorporating diamond dust. As an illustrator in 1950s New York Warhol loved to draw high heels, in 1980 he returned to the subject in a Diamond Dust series of screen prints. ‘Diamond Dust Shoes’, with its spilled ladies footwear stretching across a shimmering black background, alludes to an endless universe of high heels and plays into Warhol’s signature use of repetition. The diamond dust heightens the sense of glamour, suggesting luxury and expense – all things Warhol famously appreciated.
In 1982, Warhol used diamond dust in his image of the Disney character Mickey Mouse. The piece was part of a series of 10 silkscreen prints called ‘Myths’ which explored characters from American popular culture which have become icons, such as Superman and Santa Claus. The glittering diamond dust perfectly portrayed the mythical mirage created by Hollywood, Disney, and American consumerism. Warhol employed the glitter again in 1985 to add sparkle to the Royal edition of his famous ‘Reigning Queens’ serious. Thanks to diamond dust Warhol’s Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, Queen Ntombi Twala of Swaziland and Queen Margrethe II of Denmark were literally, extravagantly, twinkling in monarchical jewels.
It’s fitting that the Godfather of British Pop Art Sir Peter Blake paid tribute to the forefather of Pop and diamond dust printing, Andy Warhol, with a magnificent sparkling portrait. Blake’s silkscreen ‘Andy Warhol’ showcased at the Edinburgh festival in August 2009 where it immediately sold out. It features a head shot of Warhol with his famous silver hair scintillating with diamond dust against a matt black background. The portrait celebrates Warhol’s fascination with glamour, stardom and glitter.
Peter Blake has continued to explore the medium of diamond dust in his work. The sparkling substance has become a familiar part of his exciting and energetic Pop Art aesthetic. In this short video you can see Blake at the printers working on his seductive ‘Diamond Dust Marilyn 2010’ He explains how techniques and materials such as embossing and diamond dust are “pushing the frontiers of printmaking.”
Diamond dust can be seen shimmering from the surface of more and more contemporary art prints. Russell Young’s internationally acclaimed larger-than-life silkscreen prints are another fantastic example. Young has exhibited an entire series of diamond dust works on linen. The prints are portraits of familiar faces from contemporary culture, including a glittering Elizabeth Taylor, a luminous Kurt Cobain and twinkling Marilyn Monroe. On the subject of the medium Russell Young said, “I am fascinated by the way light bounces off the three-dimensional surface of my Diamond Dust paintings. In this series light and the way it is reflected is as important as the subject matter. I have hung these paintings from trees in my garden at night under a full moon, where the surface of the bible black paintings are touched by the cool blue hue of the moonlight.”
Obey’s latest limited edition prints have drawn attention to the versatility of diamond dust as an artistic medium; ushering the sparkle from its Pop Art roots into the sphere of Urban Art. By drawing attention to the surface of a print eye-catching, diamond dust not only adds texture and twinkle but perfectly complements subjects with glittering surfaces and hidden depths, such as Marilyn Monroe, advertising, consumerism, and Pop Art itself. It’s clear that diamond dust is an artist’s best friend. Go on; get a little glitter in your art collection…