As part of the opening of the exhibition of the same name at Neimënster Abbey on 27 October 2023, the printmaking workshops Empreinte atelier de gravure a.s.b.l. and Atelier Bo Halbirk handed over the Pandora print portfolio to the National Library of Luxembourg in the presence of Diane Jodes and Pit Wagner, as well as Christiane and Halfdan Halbirk.
The portfolio contains 50 prints measuring 48 x 38 cm, which were created as a tribute to the Danish painter and printmaker Torben Bo Halbirk and have been donated to the National Library’s collection. Luxembourg is represented with fifteen works, the others are by artists from 15 different countries. The portfolio also contains a plaster statuette by the German artist Peter Bracht. “We are very proud and grateful for this valuable gift,” says collection curator Stefanie Zutter. “The 51 works fit perfectly with the focus of our collection of Luxembourg artists' graphics and expand it to include important current positions of international art.”
Through his teaching activities at the CEPA summer academy, Bo Halbirk came into contact with Luxembourgish artists and helped them found their own printmaking workshop in 1994 –Empreinte atelier de gravure a.s.b.l. – which currently counts around 40 active members. During the handover, Sylvie Karier recalled the importance of Bo Halbirk: “After almost thirty years of activity, it can be said that Bo, visionary as he was, has given us a beautiful gift with the idea of this workshop, from which Luxembourg’s art scene is also benefiting.“
The works of the 51 artists, all of whom cultivate artistic exchange with the Empreinte (Luxembourg) and Bo Halbirk (Paris) workshops, illustrate the impact and influence of the Danish artist in a homage to his last series of prints, which may be considered an important piece of printmaking heritage.
Halfdan Halbirk, the artist's son, traced the history of the Pandora project, highlighting the cooperation between the two studios: “Après la disparition de mon père en 2018, nous avons très vite parlé avec Sylvie Karier, membre fondatrice de l'atelier Bo Halbirk et Diane Hall Jodes, à l'époque présidente de l'atelier Empreinte, d'essayer d'organiser un projet commun pour maintenir et réaffirmer l'amitié entre nos deux ateliers. Nous avons donc demandé à ses amis et collègues artistes de créer une estampe dont le thème serait Pandora, un prétexte pour montrer la diversité artistique et culturelle qui l'entourait, et donner l'occasion à ses amis artistes de lui rendre un dernier hommage. Vous noterez une exception en la présence d'une sculpture de Peter Bracht, qui fut notre voisin d'atelier pendant les 31 dernières années.“
Bo Halbirk chose Pandora as the title of his last series of prints. By no means did he intend to allude to the ominous box. Rather, the name symbolises a beautiful, seductive creature made by the artistically gifted fire god Hephaestus at the behest of Zeus, the father of the gods. For Bo Halbirk, it evidently symbolised the medium of graphics – although the unpredictability of the box and the potential disaster that opening it harbours are also inherent in printmaking.
Exploiting such qualities requires both specialised equipment and expertise, which Halbirk not only possessed but also generously imparted. He did not see himself as a teacher, but as a partner in the creative process, as many who worked with him testify.
The fact that Halbirk was less concerned with his own fame than with the progress of the artistic medium is demonstrated not least by the fact that he often allowed his own name to disappear behind that of his fellow artists, for example when he was active as an editor of portfolios, thus making a further important contribution to the creative and cultural wealth of printmaking in the 20th and 21st century.
The Danish artist Bo Halbirk, who died in 2018, had a lasting influence on the landscape of international printmaking and promoted the development of this art, particularly in Luxembourg.
For decades, Bo Halbirk ran a studio in Paris, tucked away between Père Lachaise and the Bastille, which specialised in intaglio printmaking: on the one hand, there are the dry processes such as drypoint, engraving and mezzotint, which are based on the physical processing of the printing plate, and on the other, the so-called wet intaglio techniques such as etching, aquatint and vernis mou (soft ground etching), in which the matrix is processed using a chemical mordant. What these techniques have in common are the indentations in the printing blocks in which the ink collects, the transfer of which to the printing medium produces the lines, patterns and tonal values of the image. Intaglio processes enable exceptionally high detail reproduction, fine tonal gradations and the reproduction of textures and even tactile qualities. In addition, deep etching allows precise control of the colouring and adjustment of the amount of ink in the recessed areas of the printing plate. The Bo Halbirk workshop is now based in Montreuil and continues to operate.